The United Arab Emirates has recently handed down a yearlong jail sentence to an American citizen based in Abu Dhabi. The crime: he posted a parody 20-minute video on YouTube that was seen by authorities as mocking young Emirati men, especially those who seem to imitate the US hip-hop culture.
The 29-year-old Shezanne Cassim works as an aviation business consultant in UAE. According to his US-based family, he has been held in detention in the Middle Eastern country since April following his posting of the controversial ‘mockumentary’ film online.
He was charged with violation of the Asian country’s cyber crime law. That punishes acts that are found to be damaging enough to UAE’s national security or reputation. The punishment is usually prison sentence with hefty fines.
The controversial video
In line with the YouTube video, Cassim was found guilty by an Abu Dhabi court. He was sentenced to a yearlong jail term plus a fine of 10,000 dirhams ($2,723). His family is now attempting to confirm if the one-year imprisonment actually includes the total time he has already served or if would translate to additional time in prison.
The video features Emirati men who were described as ‘deadly gangsters.’ Those men were recorded throwing sandals and at the same time wielding the cord that is traditionally used by the locals to hold their traditional headscarves in place. The documentary, which is seen by the local court as a mere mockery of Emirati men, starts with a clear disclaimer that the content is fictional and is not intended to incur any offense to UAE and its people.
The controversial video was posted online last year. It was filmed in the Al Satwa area in Dubai, a few miles from Burj Khalifa tower. As of press time, the documentary is still accessible through YouTube. Aside from Cassim, other parties were given the guilty verdict: two Indians, and two Emiratis. One Emirati was eventually pardoned for unknown reasons. Three more defendants in absentia were also given the same punishment as Cassim’s.
In November, another Abu Dhabi court sentenced a man with a two-year jail term for posting tweets about a certain local political trial. This case highlighted the Gulf Arab states’ sensitivity to political criticisms and to opinions that they may consider as blasphemous, especially when those are expressed on the social media.