Local human rights advocates are calling on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to release Shezanne “Shez” Cassim, a former University of Minnesota student and Woodbury resident, who is being held in an Abu Dhabi prison.

Cassim was arrested in April 7 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), after uploading what has been characterized as a satirical comedy video to YouTube.

“We are shocked and perplexed by the UAE’s treatment of Cassim. In the days leading up to International Human Rights Day, we call on UAE government officials to uphold its commitment to international human rights standards and release this bright young man who they have unjustly detained,” said Barbara Frey, director of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program, in a statement.

Supporters held a news conference on Dec. 10 at the University of Minnesota Law School urging his release and calling his detainment unwarranted and a violation of his freedom of expression.

Cassim attended Woodbury High School and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2006. His family still lives in the Twin Cities.

He was working in Dubai for a consulting firm at the time of his arrest, officials said. Cassim is being held in a maximum-security prison in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, officials said. He was arrested after posting the comedy video, which government officials argue endangered the UAE’s national security under a federal “Cyber Crimes Law.”



Bridge construction help for businesses

The Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce will launch a new business support program in January 2014 aimed at providing financial and marketing assistance to businesses affected by the St. Croix River bridge construction.

“Success 2014 is a consortium of financial and accounting businesses, printers and media companies that provide cash flow planning, lines of credit, loans and specially created marketing programs and discounts to businesses affected by St. Croix Crossing construction,” said Todd Streeter, the chamber’s executive director.

Businesses seeking help are not required to be chamber members, Streeter said.

Success 2014 will hold an informational seminar/fair in late January at the Valley Ridge Mall in Stillwater. For more information, e-mail Director@GreaterStillwaterChamber.com, visit GreaterStillwaterChamber.com, or call 651-439-4001.


St. Croix region

Open house scheduled at headquarters office

An open house for the St. Croix River Association will be held Dec. 19 from 3-6 p.m. at its headquarters, 230 S. Washington St., St. Croix Falls, Wis.

The event will include a presentation by Gary Noren, “The River in All Seasons.”

Meanwhile, registration has opened for the 2014 River Paddle, a journey that takes six days over 93 river miles. More information is available at http://scrapaddle.org.


Wisconsin contractor named as low bidder

H. James & Sons, Inc., has been named the apparent low bidder to construct the first of three portions of the Wisconsin State Hwy. 64 approach to the new St. Croix River bridge. The company is from Fennimore, Wis.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation now will review the $4.7 million bid to verify and validate the contract documents before it is awarded, which is standard practice.

The contract calls for construction to begin in spring 2014 and to end next fall. The work will include building the new Hwy. 35 overpass and grading and base course work from the Wisconsin bluff to County Road E.

Work is tentatively scheduled to begin in March. During construction of the overpass next spring, a detour will be in place. Motorists on Wisconsin 35 will need to use County E and County V until the first part of July.



New police K-9s complete training

The Woodbury Police Department announced that its two new police dogs have been cleared for active duty.

The newest force members, Bosco and Nova, have completed their 13-week training program at the St. Paul Canine Training Center and are now certified to perform drug searches, officials announced at a Dec. 11 City Council meeting.

Their respective handlers, officers Tom Ehrenberg and Brian Cline, also underwent training. The dogs are male German shepherds from Slovakia.

Denmark Township

Annual Carpenter bird count date announced

Carpenter Nature Center will hold its annual Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 28.

Every year, tens of thousands of bird-watchers from across the U.S. and Canada gather at more than 2,300 designated circles to count the number of birds they see and hear, a tradition that reportedly dates 113 years. It is believed to be the longest-running citizen science project in the world.

Carpenter is part of the Hastings-Etter Christmas Bird Count.

Over the last century, birders have reported several revealing bird trends.

For instance, the bird count documented nationwide declines in species such as American Kestrels and Northern Bobwhite Quail, according to Carpenter officials. The survey has also recorded a noticeable increase in House Finches across the continent and more recently the expanding range of Eurasian Collared-Doves, officials said.

If you are interested in taking part in this year’s bird count, e-mail Carpenter executive director Jennifer Vieth at jennifer@CarpenterNaturecenter.org.

Kevin Giles, Libor Jany