A Minnesota man who was sentenced to a year in prison over a satirical video in the United Arab Emirates will reportedly be released soon, the State Department says.
Shezanne Cassim, 29, was arrested in April and has spent nine months in detention – seven of them in a maximum security prison in Abu Dhabi – for producing a spoof martial arts video that authorities had said violated the country’s cybercrime laws and posed a threat to national security. He was sentenced in December to one year in prison.
The UAE paper, The National, reported that Cassim was also accused of defaming the country’s image overseas.
The video, “Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa G’s,” was posted to YouTube in 2012 and stated clearly in its opening that its contents were fictional and that no offense was intended.
The Associated Press quoted Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a State Department spokeswoman, who said on Tuesday that Cassim is now being prepared for release including being moved to a deportation facility.
“We understand processing will take a few days at which point he will be returning to the United States,” she said. “We continue to work closely with the UAE authorities to ensure his quick release.”
Cassim’s brother Shervon Cassim released a statement which said, “I can’t tell you how relieved our family is by this turn of events…We are very excited, and we are grateful to everyone who worked to free Shez.”
The AP reported that his family expects Cassim to return to the U.S. this week.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Cassim’s pre-trial detention time was credited toward his sentence. Additionally, he has been given time off for good behavior.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum, a Democrat of Minnesota, had called her constituent’s sentencing “an appalling attack on intellectual freedom and basic human rights.”
McCollum told TheBlaze last month, “This abuse of justice, not the spoof video Mr. Cassim made, does in fact defame the UAE in the eyes of the world.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) said: “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.”
Seven others were convicted along with Cassim. The AP reported that two Indian defendants received similar sentences, and two Emiratis received lighter sentences.
The Emiratis have been released, the AP reported.
“Gulf Arab authorities have been cracking down on social media use over the past two years, with dozens of people arrested across the region for Twitter posts deemed offensive to leaders or for social media campaigns urging more political openness,” the AP reported.
Cassim family attorney Susan Burns characterized the UAE’s legal system as archaic and unfair. She told the AP, “It’s ridiculous that he was ever charged and put in prison for 275 days in the first place.”
The focus of the satirical video was an alleged martial art known as the “Deadly Satwa” named after a neighborhood in Dubai. In it, Cassim interviewed a so-called martial arts grand master named “Saloom Snake,” because “his kicks are said to be as dangerous as a snake bite.”
Here is the video that was posted online in 2012: