American sits in Dubai jail facing prison for silly parody video

Shezanne Cassim 1
AP Photo/Courtesy Shervon Cassim

An American remains jailed in the United Arab Emirates under serious charges after he and his pals filmed and posted a parody video online.

Shezanne Cassim, 29, of Woodbury, Minn., had worked in Dubai as a business consultant since 2006 for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Now, he and eight friends are in hot water over a 2012 YouTube video that depicts a gang of kids calling themselves “Satwa G,” a sub-culture of young, privileged Dubai teens “who are influenced by hip-hop culture,” CNN reported Saturday.

The 19-minute video shows the wannabe toughs being trained as Dubai’s suburban warriors by practicing throwing sandals at targets and doing martial arts with belts for satiric value.

But Cassim’s family said he is the first to be charged “under a cybercrimes law for endangering public order” – a law that wasn’t in effect until after the video was published, CNN reported.

There appears to be no anti-government ranting or dangerous imagery in the video. The only footage that may raise an eyebrow is a scene where the gang rides up in an SUV to warn women they are in a “dangerous neighborhood,” according to CNN’s article.

“It’s like someone in the U.S. making a parody video of a Brooklyn hipster and getting thrown in jail for it and being held in jail for months without bail,” Cassim’s brother told a CNN affiliate. “That is what’s going on here.”

The United Arab Emirates has provided few answers as to what it finds damning about the video, and the country’s diplomats in the United States have refused phone calls or assistance to Minnesota congressional delegates, the Star Tribune reported.

“Cassim faces a prison term and up to a $272,000 fine in the case,” Rori Donaghy, director of the Emirates Center for Human Rights, told the Tribune.

Donaghy called the charges “ludicrous.”

“I just want my son home for Christmas,” Cassim’s mother told CNN. “He’s a good young man with a good career and has never been in trouble.”

The United Arab Emirates issued a travel alert to Americans warning against social media posts that “that might be deemed to insult or challenge the local government,” the Star Tribune reported.

The U.S. Embassy and the consulate general in the UAE have asked for a fair and speedy trial for Cassim, who is reportedly being held in a maximum-security prison in Abu Dhabi.

Watch the CNN report here:

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