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UAE frees American jailed for YouTube parody video

Shezanne Cassim served 9 months for parody of Emiratis imitating US hip-hop culture

Image Credit: AP
Shezanne Cassim, left, laughs after his attorney, Susan Burns answered a reporter's question after he arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in Minneapolis.
Gulf News

Dubai: An American citizen was released from jail in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday after serving nine months in prison for posting a parody video on YouTube, his family said.

Shezanne Cassim, 29, was sentenced to a year in prison last month over a 20-minute “mockumentary” video which poked fun at young Emirati men who imitate U.S. hip-hop culture.

However, because he had been in detention since last April, Cassim has now been released “according to a customary practice that equates nine months of imprisonment to a one-year sentence”, the family said in an emailed statement.

“Shezanne ... will arrive in Minneapolis Thursday afternoon,” it said.

There was no immediate reaction from UAE authorities.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department welcomed Cassim’s release.

“Obviously, it’s a welcome development,” Jen Psaki told a regular news briefing. “We’ve consistently raised this issue about his arrest and trial specifically with UAE officials. We have continuously pressed for a fair and expedient resolution as we were deeply concerned by the verdict.”

In the video posted on Google Inc’s YouTube in 2012, Emirati men jokingly described as “deadly gangsters” can be seen practicing throwing sandals and wielding an agal - the cord used to keep in place traditional Arab headscarves.

The video opened with a disclaimer stating it was fictional and did not intend to offend the people of the UAE.

Cassim, an aviation business consultant, was charged with violating the Gulf country’s cybercrimes law, which makes acts deemed damaging to the country’s reputation or national security punishable by heavy fines and jail time.

Cassim was also fined 10,000 dirhams ($2,700).