United Arab Emirates to free Minn. man jailed for YouTube video
- Blog Post by: Corey Mitchell
- January 7, 2014 - 1:33 PM
The United Arab Emirates will release Shezanne “Shez” Cassim, a Minnesota man jailed in the country for nine months for posting a spoof video about youth culture in Dubai to YouTube.
Cassim is expected to return to Minnesota this week, said family spokeswoman Jennifer Gore and U.S. State Department officials.
Cassim is a Sri-Lankan born U.S. citizen from Woodbury who moved to Dubai for work after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006.
The 29-year-old was jailed in April for a 19-minute mock documentary spoofing would-be teenage gangsters in Dubai.
Emirati officials said Cassim and his friends violated a 2012 cybercrimes law and posed a threat to national security. State security forces transferred him to a high security prison in Abu Dhabi in June.
“We understand that Mr. Cassim will be released in the next few days,” said State Department press officer Pooja Jhunjhunwala. “We continue to work closely with the UAE authorities to ensure his quick release.”
The Cassim family, including his parents and siblings, spent much of his youth in Dubai before moving to Minnesota in the early 2000s. Their efforts to publicize his months-long incarceration garnered international attention and the support of comedians such as Will Ferrell.
An Emirati judge sentenced Cassim on December 22 to a year in prison followed by deportation and a $2,725 fine. With credit for time served, he has served three-fourths of the sentence. Upon release, he will be immediately deported from the country.
American consular officials followed Cassim’s case closely and Michael Corbin, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, pledged to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar that he would make the case his “highest priority.”
Klobuchar, U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum expressed relief that Emirati officials will soon release Cassim.
“Jailing this young man for months for posting a harmless video made absolutely no sense, especially in a country that prides itself on being a tolerant and just nation,” Klobuchar said.
“Shezanne’s family never gave up on this fight, and having their son home safe is the best start to 2014 I can imagine.”
© 2015 Star Tribune