The United Arab Emirates has released a US citizen who was jailed for nine months in the country. The 29-year-old Shezanne Cassim was sentenced to a year-long prison term in December over cybercrime charges after he produced and posted on YouTube a 20-minute parody video that seemed to poke fun at younger Emirati men who appear to be imitating the popular hip-hop culture in the US.
He was arrested and detained in April last year. In a statement, his family disclosed that Cassim was released due to a customary practice in UAE that equates imprisonment of nine months to a one-year term. He was immediately flown to the US after his release from jail.
Up to this day, Cassim is firm to assert that he did not break any law in UAE. He declared that he sees nothing illegal about how the video was produced. He clarified that the ‘mockumentary’ did not break any specific UAE law. Cassim claimed that he had been tried and sentenced in a kangaroo court and was eventually convicted even without any strong evidence.
Cassim claimed that he was held with very limited information while in jail. He revealed that he was only told about his alleged crime on his fifth month in prison. He believes that the action was just a warning message to all other nationalities and he was just used as a scapegoat.
US made a statement
As expected, UAE authorities are yet to make any comment about Cassim’s release. For its part, the US State Department took the American’s release as good news. It disclosed that it had been constantly getting in touch with UAE officials about his arrest and trial.
The agency said it had continuously pressed for fair trial and expedient resolution to the case. It added that it had been very concerned especially about the verdict.
The 20-minute video posted online
In the controversial video, several Emirati men were described in jest as ‘deadly gangsters.’ They were showed throwing sandals and wielding agal (cord used for holding Arab headscarves in place).
But the 20-minute video had a disclaimer that the material was fictional and that it had no intention to be offensive to UAE and its people. Aside from the prison term, Cassim was also ordered to shoulder a fine worth 10,000 dirhams or $2,700.