December 5th, 2013
10:29 AM ET

U.S. Man Sits In Jail For Posting Comedy Video

A young American living in the United Arab Emirates has been imprisoned since April, his family says, for posting what was intended to be a funny video on the Internet.

It was meant to be a piece of comedy, a 19-minute video that pokes fun at a clique of Dubai teens who are influenced by hip-hop culture. In the 1990s, the label "Satwa G" was coined for a group of suburban teens who were known to talk tougher than they really were.

But the situation isn't funny any more.

Now, the family of Shezanne "Shez" Cassim wants to bring attention to his case ahead of a hearing December 16.

"It was just for fun. He's a big fan of sketch comedy, he's a big fan of "Saturday Night Live," ...he and his friends just wanted to make a funny sketch comedy in their spare time,"  Cassim's brother, Shervon Cassim, told CNN's Kate Bolduan Thursday.

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Cassim's family says Shez, 29, has been charged with endangering national security, but they've not been told what about the video endangered security.

UAE authorities did not respond to CNN requests for details about what charges Cassim may be facing and why.

“He tries to put on a brave face. He said he was doing fine.. but I could sense a growing anxiety in his voice. He’s a little depressed. My impression is that he’s going just a little bit crazy in his cell,” his brother told CNN.

Cassim, from Woodbury, Minnesota, moved to Dubai in 2006 after graduating college to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

He and some friends made and posted the video online in 2012. He was arrested in April 2013.

According to the family, Cassim and eight friends have been charged under a cybercrimes law for endangering public order. This law, the family says, wasn't passed until after the video had been released.

Two attempts by Cassim's lawyers to get him released on bail have been rejected.

The U.S. State Department is providing consular services to Cassim, a department official said, and has attended all his court hearings.

"The U.S. Embassy and Consulate General have engaged with UAE counterparts to urge a fair and expedient trial and judgment," the official said.

The Satwa G's, the family said in a statement, were known as wanna-be gangsters, and that's how Cassim portrayed them.

"These 'gangstas' were known for their decidedly mild behavior and were seen as the total opposite of actual criminals," the statement said. "The fictional training depicted in the video teaches techniques that include the best way to throw a sandal at a newspaper (target) and, ultimately, how to use the mobile phone when in trouble."

At the last hearing, the judge in the case asked for an Arabic translation of the video, giving the family some hope that the authorities will realize that it was a parody.

"I just want my son home for Christmas," said Cassim's mother, Jean Cassim, in a statement. "He's a good young man with a great career and has never been in trouble. Now he's being held for no reason. I've been praying, going to mass and lighting candles, and that's what I'm going to keep doing."

An average of about 2,500 Americans are jailed abroad every year, and about a third of those arrests are related to illegal drugs, the U.S. State Department says. "In 2010 alone, consular officers conducted more than 9,500 prison visits, and assisted more than 3,500 Americans who were arrested abroad," the State Department's website says.

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Filed under: Interview • News • Videos • World News
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Lottelell

    Hi!New,interesting resource

    December 12, 2013 at 7:06 am | Reply
  2. friend

    #freeShez

    December 5, 2013 at 11:40 am | Reply

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