A 29-year-old Minnesota man has been detained in a maximum security prison for the past seven months in Abu Dhabi over a spoof martial arts video.
United Arab Emirates authorities say the video, which was posted in 2012 to YouTube by Shezanne Cassim of Woodbury, Minn., violates the country’s cyber crime laws and poses a threat to national security, KARE-TV reported.
The video, “Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa G’s,” opens with a disclaimer that states the events in the video are fictional and that no offense was intended.
It describes a martial art known as the “Deadly Satwa” named after a neighborhood in Dubai. The video profiles an alleged grand master of the sport named “Saloom Snake,” because “his kicks are said to be as dangerous as a snake bite.”
The so-called grand master describes what a “very important weapon” his shoe is. He demonstrates how it can be thrown against a newspaper hanging on an easel. Another self-defense technique, he explains, is using the Twitter hashtag #SaveSaloomSnake to call for help.
Shervon Cassim, Shezanne’s brother, told KARE-TV that the video was meant to be a joke.
"It's like somebody in the United States making a parody video of a Brooklyn hipster, and being held in jail for it and being held in jail for months without bail that's what's going on here," he said.
“It's just a straight forward silly comedy video and he's been treated like he's some sort of dangerous criminal under high security, maximum security conditions," Shervon added.
The Star Tribune provided more details on the case:
Dubai authorities jailed Cassim and revoked his passport on April 7 after questioning him about the video, said Susan Burns, the Minnesota lawyer hired by Cassim’s family.
In June Cassim was transferred to Al-Wathba Prison in Abu Dhabi, along with several other people featured in the video, including two Emirati citizens.
Born in Sri Lanka, Cassim is a U.S. citizen who had been working as a consultant in Dubai.
Family members said that the judge has denied Cassim bail three times and after seven months in the maximum security prison has not set a trial date.
“At a time when the United Arab Emirates is holding itself out as a modern country, it is sadly ironic and a poor image to present to the world that it continues to imprison my brother for uploading a silly video,” Cassim’s brother told the Star Tribune.
Cassim’s family has turned to Minnesota’s congressional delegation for help.
The Star Tribune reported that Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken have unsuccessfully turned to the United Arab Emirates’ U.S. ambassador for help.
"What I think we need to do is call attention to this so that the United Arab Emirates steps back and looks at this again and expedites this case so that there's justice for this young man and his family," Klobuchar said.
Here's a copy of the supposedly offending video: