UAE frees American jailed over YouTube satire

posted at 8:01 am on January 9, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

An American imprisoned for poking fun at the wanna-be gangsta culture in Dubai has finally been freed after nine months in prison for violating the United Arab Emirates’ cybercrimes law. Shezanne Cassim may arrive back his native Twin Cities as early as today:

Shezanne Cassim, 29, was jailed by a State Security Court on Dec. 23 under an article of the federal cybercrimes law, which provides for jail and fines for anyone who uses information technology to publish caricatures that are “liable to endanger state security and its higher interests or infringe on public order.” At the time of the sentencing, Mr. Cassim, who is from Woodbury, Minn., had already been in detention since April.

On Tuesday, a representative for his family, Jennifer P. Gore, said in a statement that customary practice in the United Arab Emirates equates nine months imprisonment to a one-year sentence, so Mr. Cassim was already being processed for deportation based on time served and was expected home this week.

“I can’t tell you how relieved our family is by this turn of events,” Mr. Cassim’s brother, Shervon Cassim, said in a statement. “We are very excited, and we are grateful to everyone who worked to free Shez.”

The local KSTP channel said in a report that he could be arriving at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Thursday morning.

The cybercrime law was just a cover for the arbitrary punishment for Cassim’s gentle satirical jab. Nothing in the video criticizes the governments of Dubai or the UAE, or of Islam and its laws, which UAE applies to foreigners as well as its subjects. CNN reports that none of the men jailed for the video can quite figure out why they ended up in prison, and everyone else has been left wondering just what they can and cannot do in the UAE without running afoul of the capricious rulers.

In case you missed it in my first post on Cassim, here’s the satire that was so dangerous it sent several men to prison for nine months:

As comedy, it’s got good production values but doesn’t sustain itself over its longish run time. It would have worked better as a series of short skits rather than one 20-minute mockumentary. The late Chris Farley did this much better in Beverly Hills Ninja. On the other hand, it beats For Your Consideration by a mile.

It’s easy to joke about this, but it’s no joke to Cassim and his family. It’s outrageous of Dubai to have locked up Cassim for even a day, let alone for eight months — and adding another year in maximum security is absurd. Dubai and UAE want to position themselves as a modern, cosmopolitan oasis in the Middle East, but this suggests that they’re just another oppressive totalitarian state with enough money to buy good PR. The US should have demanded his release months ago, and his continued incarceration should be a high-profile story for anyone who cares about even rudimentary freedoms, such as the freedom to laugh.

I’m happy to see Cassim released and hopefully arriving back in town soon. But this should serve as a warning that shiny buildings and free-flowing cash does not necessarily equate modernity and liberty.

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CNN reports that none of the men jailed for the video can quite figure out why they ended up in prison, and everyone else has been left wondering just what they can and cannot do in the UAE without running afoul of the capricious rulers.

Here’s a suggestion…….. Don’t try to be a comedian in a Muslim country.

Happy Nomad on January 9, 2014 at 8:08 AM

…in this country…if he screws with JugEars…he would still be in jail!

KOOLAID2 on January 9, 2014 at 8:08 AM

Any area that has a majority muslim population is not “free”, even in America. Act accordingly.

Mord on January 9, 2014 at 8:17 AM

People who live, work, travel or even vacation abroad need to remember that they are under the laws, some of them very arbitrary, and punishment can be harsh.

The UAE likes to portray itself as a modern democratic Arab state. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are indeed modern. Are the democratic? No, not at all, they are absolute monarchies and the sheiks and their families who run these emirates do not take kindly to criticism.

A few things I learned very early in my travels abroad are if the country has any of these words in the title of the country, you need to be very careful there:

People’s
Socialist
Democratic
Islamic
Arab
Jamahariya
Darusaalem

If you travel to any country with any of these words in the official name of that place, rule of law is probably whatever the ruler of the day decides.

simkeith on January 9, 2014 at 8:18 AM

People who live, work, travel or even vacation abroad need to remember that they are under the laws, some of them very arbitrary, and punishment can be harsh.

simkeith on January 9, 2014 at 8:18 AM

Same holds true when traveling domestically.

When I was living in New Orleans, I can’t tell you the number of people who showed up and acted as if all the normal standards of behavior didn’t apply. They were truly shocked that you couldn’t just urinate on any old building. Not that they would even consider it back at their home.

Happy Nomad on January 9, 2014 at 8:28 AM

People’s
Socialist
Democratic
Islamic
Arab
Jamahariya
Darusaalem

If you travel to any country with any of these words in the official name of that place, rule of law is probably whatever the ruler of the day decides.

simkeith on January 9, 2014 at 8:18 AM

Given the events of the last 5 years, I’m afraid you can now add United to your list.

kenro85 on January 9, 2014 at 8:44 AM

OT- But this seems to be a slow thread anyway.

In reference to the Navy helicopter that went down in Norfolk with the loss of two sailors, two in the hospital, one still missing; one of the WaPo comments was this………

This would be a perfect time to tell all these folks, and their shipmates, that their retirement system is too lavish.

Nailed it IMO.

Happy Nomad on January 9, 2014 at 8:48 AM

under an article of the [UAE] federal cybercrimes law, which provides for jail and fines for anyone who uses information technology to publish caricatures that are “liable to endanger state security and its higher interests or infringe on public order.”

“I frankly don’t understand all the brouhaha lately from Congress and even from some of my colleagues about referring to foreign law,” – ruth buzzy-ginsberger

Lost in Jersey on January 9, 2014 at 8:49 AM

If SNL was worth a damn they’d have had a weekly satire of the UAE until this guy was freed.

TexasDan on January 9, 2014 at 8:56 AM

Great. Now how about releasing Mr. Nakoula, the Benghazi scapegoat, languishing in prison here in “the land of the free”.

labrat on January 9, 2014 at 9:57 AM

Great. Now how about releasing Mr. Nakoula, the Benghazi scapegoat, languishing in prison here in “the land of the free”.

labrat on January 9, 2014 at 9:57 AM

he was released months ago.

dmacleo on January 9, 2014 at 10:17 AM

I live in Dubai. This guy must’ve been a real @sshat when he was confronted. All he had to do was apologize and pull the video. This ain’t America. This place is for making a lot of money, and then leaving. Part of what you must do for that extra money is keeping your mouth shut and not annoying the locals.

Wino on January 9, 2014 at 11:40 AM

I can see the problem. They talked to two unshrouded women on the street. That’s a year right there, along with getting your particulars cut off if they prong.

unclesmrgol on January 9, 2014 at 11:48 AM

dmacleo – supervised release with probation doesn’t count.

labrat on January 9, 2014 at 11:57 AM

How is it that every country in the mid-east, with the exception of Israel, is a backwards, barbaric, violent, noisome, cesspit? What is it that they have in common that makes them such unsavory, horrible places to be? There must be something; I just can’t put my finger on it…

SteveThomas on January 9, 2014 at 6:02 PM