January 15th, 2014
04:11 AM ET

American Jailed in UAE for Comedy Video Speaks Out

Shezanne Cassim, an American jailed in the United Arab Emirates for posting a comedy video online, spoke with CNN's Kate Bolduan on "New Day" Wednesday.

When asked if he was fearful during the nine months he spent in prison, Cassim said:

"I was too numb to be scared. But really, when I found out the media had picked up my story, especially when I found out about the Funny or Die video, I suddenly felt safe, and protected in a way."


In December, Cassim was sentenced to a year in prison and a fine of about $2,700. The charges were not read in court, but the country's main English-language newspaper reported that Cassim was accused of defaming the UAE's image abroad.

UAE officials would say only that Cassim "was charged under the UAE's penal code" and was "entitled to the fair trial protections contained in the UAE's constitution."

Cassim said the reason behind his detention was clear.

"Due to the political situation there, they're scared of democracy. They wanted to send a message to the UAE public, saying, 'Look what we'll do to people who do just a silly YouTube video, so imagine if you do something that's actually critical of the government.' It's a warning message, and we're scapegoats," he said.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday that after getting credit against his one-year sentence for time served and "for good behavior," Cassim was moved to a deportation facility for processing.

According to his family, Cassim, of Woodbury, Minnesota, ended up serving nine months in prison - more than half of those before being charged - before his recent move to a deportation facility.


He had moved to Dubai in 2006, after graduating from college, to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

His family says the 29-year-old was arrested in April after uploading a 19-minute video that pokes fun at a clique of Dubai teens influenced by hip-hop culture.

In the 1990s, the label "Satwa G" was given to a group of suburban teens who were known to talk tougher than they really were.

Cassim's video depicts a "combat school" in the Dubai district of Satwa, where these "gangsters" are trained. The training includes how to throw sandals at targets, use clothing accessories as whips and call on the phone for backup.

Shervon Cassim said his brother made the video "just for fun."

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Filed under: Interview • News • Videos • World News
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. sampson3121

    i find it strange that they never have people who have been detained for yrs without being charge with anything on their show.they had one of the basket ball players that went to north Korea on te other day, and they he was grilled about why he would go to a country where people are taken without charge and detained , like the American who's now held in N.Korea. ONE WORD...GUANTANAMO!.....HYPOCRITES.

    January 15, 2014 at 8:55 am | Reply
  2. USAF Retired

    Here is a clue . . . you're in a 3rd world country where they probably don't appreciate American humor. Why invite trouble? Just because you are an American doesn't mean their 3rd world laws don't apply to you when you are in their country, even if they are ridiculous.

    January 15, 2014 at 8:04 am | Reply
  3. Paul Wilson

    Another example of the absence of democracy in Islamic states in general. This and many other reasons why one should think twice before converting to Islam.

    January 15, 2014 at 7:59 am | Reply
  4. Kurohime

    He didn't say anything during the interview that wasn't already known. Must be waiting to get paid.

    January 15, 2014 at 7:52 am | Reply
  5. whaat00

    What am I missing that makes this guy a "victim"??? He goes to another country- mocks their culture and disregards their laws- and then cries "victim" when the law is enforced and hes arrested. Give me a break and stop acting so entitled and wronged.

    January 15, 2014 at 7:50 am | Reply
  6. Kacey Mathew

    What roll the US Embassy played to protect our citizens in this case?

    January 15, 2014 at 7:33 am | Reply
  7. Caleb Boone

    Dear Ladies and Gentlemen:

    I read an earlier article some time ago on the CNN main website which explained this case in detail.

    I now read that Shezanne Cassim is free. I am very glad he has been released and was not punished further.

    I have watched a little over six minutes of the original nineteen minute Youtube video which Shezanne Cassim made and published on the internet.

    I have also read several of the comments others have written elsewhere.

    Please allow me this observation.

    Shezanne Cassim was certainly free, while in Dubai, to think whatever he wanted to think about teenagers and other youths in Dubai.

    Shezanne Cassim was, however, not free to do whatever he wanted to do or to say or display publicly whatever he wanted to express, display or publish in a place which is ruled as an Absolute Monarchy.

    Of course, we here in America are not restricted in that way. But if we were in Dubai, we would be restricted.

    I assume that Shezanne Cassim is a well-educated Certified Public Accountant. That means he has received substantial university education, earned advanced degrees, and has received rigorous training in the difficult and technical professions of Financial and/or Public Accounting and related disciplines.

    He has been trained to think critically and to analyze and solve extremely complex mathematical and financial problems.

    He is thirty years old. He is not a teenager.

    I am very sorry for what happened to him. However, he should have realized this conduct would not have been tolerated in an Absolute Muslim Monarchy.




    Three key words never to be forgotten.

    Have a Dovely.

    Sincerely yours,
    Caleb Boone.

    January 15, 2014 at 7:24 am | Reply
  8. Frank

    It was all about offending the CURSE they call ISLAM!

    ISLAM needs to be banned from the free world! PERIOD!

    January 15, 2014 at 6:59 am | Reply
  9. Daniel

    If their shaik, the one that runs the country, was recorded beating and torturing a foreigner that worked for him (it's all over YouTube for those that want to check it out) then how do you expect the rest of their people would be?

    January 15, 2014 at 6:29 am | Reply

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