Woodbury man says UAE prison time was scary and 'school for creativity'

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In his first local TV interview, Shez Cassim told KSTP that his nine months in a maximum security prison in the United Arab Emirates were a roller coaster of emotions.

Shezanne Cassim, a 29-year-old University of Minnesota graduate from Woodbury, was imprisoned for co-producing a satiric video that showed young men pretending to train for a militia.

"The whole thing was to exaggerate the things they do; to portray to the city that these guys aren't dangerous," Cassim said. "The people who understand the joke thought this was one of the funniest things to come out of Dubai."

But government authorities did not appreciate the joke. Cassim said they asked him who was paying for the video and whether he was part of an anti-government organization.

The 19-minute-video opens with a disclaimer saying everything it shows is fictional.

Cassim, a U.S. citizen, was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Dubai to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006. His supporters said he was charged with endangering state security, one of eight people convicted in December 2012. Cassim was sentenced to one year in prison, a fine and deportation. The U.S. State Department said he got credit for time served and was given time off for good behavior.

When he returned home in early January, CNN reported that, for months, Cassim didn't know why he was in jail.

Gulf Arab authorities have been cracking down on social media use, with dozens of people arrested for Twitter posts or social media campaigns deemed offensive.

Cassim told KSTP that his prison time was an exercise in creativity.

"We created our own playing cards, we created our own chess set using bread to create chess pieces."

He said he is not planning to go back to the UAE, and that he and his family are considering legal action.

KSTP posted a longer version of the interview, in which Cassim goes into more detail about his fear and the filthy conditions in the prison where he was held.

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