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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.

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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.

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