The Star Tribune reports that a judge in the United Arab Emirates has sentenced Shezanne “Shez" Cassim to a year in prison for making what he and his friends intended to be a mock documentary, which they posted to YouTube.
It was not immediately clear whether the University of Minnesota graduate would get credit for time served, the newspaper reported. Cassim and several filmmaking colleagues were put in jail in April and transferred to an Abu Dhabi prison in June. United Arab Emirates officials say the 19-minute video, "Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa G's," violates federal cyber crimes law and is a national security threat.
The video, which has an accompanying blooper reel, starts with the disclaimer, “The video is fictional and no offence [sic] was intended to the United Arab Emirates or to the people of Satwa,” which is a dining and shipping area in Dubai.
Cassim is a U.S. citizen born in Sri Lanka, formerly of Woodbury, who moved to Dubai after he graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2006. His friends and family, who say the film was nothing more than a spoof on youth culture in Dubai that was made in fun, have been trying to win his release, in part through a Facebook campaign.
Several Minnesota members of Congress have tried to intervene in an effort to have Cassim released from prison. The U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Michael Corbin, told U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar that Cassim’s case is his “highest priority,” the Star Tribune reports. State Department officials say they have been closely monitoring the case.
The newspaper reports that international media law experts say the case shows that Gulf nations are concerned about the power of social media following the Arab Spring.
Meanwhile, comedians are rallying for Cassim. The comedy website co-founded by Will Ferrell, “Funny or Die,” has posted a video urging the United Arab Emirates to reconsider Cassim's imprisonment.