Skip to main content

American gets 1-year prison sentence for parody video

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Sara Sidner, CNN
updated 1:54 PM EST, Mon December 23, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Newspaper says Cassim is accused of defaming the UAE's image abroad
  • The video in question is a 19-minute short that pokes fun at a clique of Dubai teens
  • UAE officials have not said much about the charges
  • Cassim's family says he was in prison for five months before being told of the charges

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- Shezanne Cassim, the American jailed in the United Arab Emirates after posting a video parody, was sentenced Monday to one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 UAE dirhams (approximately $2,700).

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

He was accused of defaming the UAE's image abroad, according to The National, the country's main English-language newspaper.

The video in question is a 19-minute short 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.

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

Tight-lipped about charges

'We don't feel that this is justice'
A-list comedians fight to #FreeShez
American jailed in Abu Dhabi in court

Cassim's family says the 29-year-old has been charged with endangering national security.

The charges were not read out in court. UAE officials would only say "Mr. Cassim was charged under the UAE's penal code. Anyone charged with a crime under the laws of the UAE is entitled to the fair trial protections contained in the UAE's constitution."

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

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

He was interrogated and arrested in Dubai before being transferred to a maximum security prison in Abu Dhabi. His family says it was five months before he was notified of the charges against him.

'It was just for fun'

In an interview with CNN on December 5, Cassim's brother, Shervon, said Shezanne had made the video for fun.

"It was just for fun. It was -- he's a big fan of sketch comedies. He's a big fan of 'SNL,' 'Funny or Die,' all those shows, and he and his friends just wanted to make a funny sketch comedy in their spare time," Shervon Cassim said.

"There was no indication in local law that making a comedy video, making fun of teenagers in the suburbs, was a threat to the UAE's national security."

Family members said they had spoken to him when he was allowed a phone call out.

"He tries to put on a brave face," Shervon Cassim said. "He said that he was doing fine, not to worry about him, but I could just sense that he's a little depressed -- my impression is that he's going just a little bit crazy in his cell."

READ: New Day blog: Will Ferrell joins fight to free American Shezanne Cassim

CNN's Sara Sidner reported from Abu Dhabi; Marie-Louise Gumuchian reported and wrote from London.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT