A video that was meant to be a joke has gotten an American filmmaker sentenced to a year in prison in Dubai.
The filmmaker, Shezanne Cassim was arrested back in April and has been held in a maximum security prison in the United Arab Emirate's (UAE) city of Dubai.
Cassim's video is called The Ultimate Combat System: The Satwa Gs. The 20 minute video is shot in documentary style. In the short film, the fictional fighting system known as "Satwa" and the training and lifestyle associated with it are shown.
How do we know the video is not serious? The opening few seconds states quite clearly, "The following events are fictional and no offense (SIC) was intended to the people of Satwa or UAE."
In the film, the Satwa Gs are shown learning how to properly throw a shoe, "it is good to hit the enemy from afar." There are also prolonged video sequences showing the Satwa Gs on "patrol." They never encounter any real danger or engage any bad guys, but that seems to be the point of the mockumentary.
The video was uploaded to Cancelled Visa's YouTube channel back in October of 2012 - before the new cybercrimes law was enacted. It did not go viral, but did manage to get almost 200,000 clicks. Perhaps one of those views was from an official in the UAE. In April of this year, arrests were made and several of those involved in the making of the video were locked up, including American citizen, Shazanne Cassim.
Cassim's family has been dealing with the prolonged trial process and frequent verdict delays - they were expecting to learn Shazanne's fate months ago. AZcentral.com reported that the process was delayed as a judge waiting for a full translation of the video.
Earlier today, Cassim and seven others involved in the making of the video were sentenced to a year in prison for violating a 2012 cybercrimes law that frowns on "defaming the UAE society's image abroad."
The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Embassy in Dubai was not commenting on the sentence. AP's coverage did say that the State Department's latest statement on Cassim's detention came last week when Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf told them that Cassim's "prolonged incarceration" was troubling.
TheBlaze reached out to Congresswoman Betty McCollum of Minnesota. McCollum represents the district where Cassim's family lives. “The Dubai court’s sentencing of Minnesotan Shez Cassim is an appalling attack on intellectual freedom and basic human rights, " said McCollum. "This abuse of justice, not the spoof video Mr. Cassim made, does in fact defame the UAE in the eyes of the world.“
Rep. McCollum is calling for the immediate release of the jailed American. TheBlaze asked the Representative what the State Department was doing to secure Cassim's behalf. Her reply, “If he is not immediately released the U.S. Department of State needs to issue a travel advisory to inform any American citizen contemplating travel to the United Arab Emirates that basic intellectual freedoms and free speech are not respected and can lead to extended imprisonment.”
In the past, McCollum has been critical of the UAE's policies and recently warned anyone considering a visit to the emirate, “Americans in the UAE beware – your words and ideas can get you imprisoned indefinitely.” You can also read previous comments on the story that were made by Rep. McCollum here.
TheBlaze has also reached out to the State Department and we will post any updates as soon as we receive them.
What sparked the UAE to arrest and detain an American in a maximum security facility since April, and a court to sentence him to an additional year in prison as well as pay a fine of $2,725? You can watch the entire video here:
TheBlaze covered this story in late November, read our early report from Sharona Schwartz here.
You can also watch the "blooper reel" from the "Ultimate Combat System" mockumentary here.
Follow Mike Opelka on Twitter - @stuntbrain