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The judge in the case didn’t request an Arabic translation of the English video until Cassim had already spent more than seven months in jail.
Family members said Cassim signed documents in Arabic while under pressure from police.
Experts on life in the Gulf Arab nation said authorities there go to great lengths to protect the country’s image and are leery about the use of social media in the wake of Arab Spring uprisings.
Officials there apparently did not take kindly to Cassim’s video poking fun at life in the Emirates, especially one that references the power of Twitter to rally reinforcements during conflicts.
According to the National, a government-owned newspaper in Abu Dhabi, authorities accused the defendants of “defaming the U.A.E. society’s image abroad.”
Human rights groups said any damage to the U.A.E.’s image has been self-inflicted.
“These filmmakers have been convicted of harming the U.A.E.’s reputation, but the only people doing this are the authorities,” said Rori Donaghy, director of the London-based Emirates Centre for Human Rights. “This should be a warning to all expatriates living in Dubai that authorities consider making a joke to be a state security crime.”
Before his family relocated to Minnesota in the early 2000s and became U.S. citizens, Cassim spent much of his youth in the Emirates. To his family’s dismay, he’ll be there awhile longer now.
“We aren’t sure what we’re going to do,” said Shervon Cassim. “We are absolutely hurt and outraged.”
Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington bureau. Twitter: @C_C_Mitchell