Shezane Cassim: American jailed in the United Arab Emirates over filming parody video

An American citizen, Shezane Cassim, has been locked up in a United Arab Emirates prison for eight months.

Cassim's family gathered Tuesday in Minneapolis, hoping to raise public awareness about Shezzane's detention and about the fact that they're still awaiting answers to why he is not being released.

For weeks now we've been working the phones trying to get answers too.

Why has this American, Shezzane Cassim and his friends, been locked up in a prison here for 8 months?  

It started with a parody video.

It is a satirical film he and friends shot poking fun at the idea of wannabe gangsters training to protect people on the not-so-dangerous streets of suburban Dubai.

Their weapons are comical, shoes for example.

It was meant to be a joke, a "mockumentary", but no one is laughing now.

No matter how hard we try, U.A.E.  officials  will not make a single comment about this case to journalists, and the government doesn't have to because the laws here do not require it.

However, we did manage to find a U.A.E.  citizen who says he does have information about the case, Obaid Yousif al Zaabi.

In an exclusive interview al Zaabi told us he knows something because he spent time in prison with the amateur filmmakers.

He says the guys told him they were charged under the newly revised cybercrime law which is exactly why he was sent to jail.

"I was using social media especially Twitter to express my opinions and defend human rights and cases of people detained by national security and I was calling for political reform," said al Zaabi.

What he got instead was time in cell block 7 where he says he met the American and his friends.

"In terms of their health they seemed thin, they seemed down because they didn't expect to face charges over a humorous video that they only intended to be funny," recalled al Zaabi.

Cassim was arrested in April after posting the short film, which clearly states it's fictional, on Youtube.

One media law expert who lived and worked in the U.A.E. says elements in the film may have touched on sensitive subjects for the gulf monarchies.

Particularly a line, which mentions using twitter to gather fighters, a tactic that helped fuel crowds during the 2011 Arab uprisings.

The law was updated after the revolutions.

"The Arab spring really worried the leadership of the U.A.E.  and you saw them respond very harshly to public speeches which what we saw was a lot of arrests and that kind of thing," said Matt Duffy, Media Law Professor at Kennesaw State College.

But only the government knows why Cassim and the others are imprisoned and so far they are not making any public comments.


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