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


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.

Next Up

Ambulance hospital emergency

Driver killed after crashing into parked semi-trailer

The crash occurred on the 5800 block of University Avenue Northeast.

Mike Zimmer

Vikings-Panthers: 5 things you can count on happening

The Vikings will look to open things up in Carolina.

Tanner Morgan/Gopher Football

Morgan's resurgence, Nebraska's miscues help Gophers hold on

The Gophers quarterback threw a pair of touchdowns in a 30-23 victory.

Tina Smith

Sen. Tina Smith warns Dems she may not vote for budget bill if climate plan dropped

This comes amid a White House effort to get its "Build Back Better" plan passed.

Pixabay - emergency room ambulance hospital

St. Paul man dies six days after crash on I-94

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has identified the man as David Rodney Hardaway.

police lights squad car dark - Unsplash

Double murder in northeastern Minnesota, suspect kills himself after chase

The suspect died at the scene from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

chaska school fight

Anti-masker involved in school board meeting fight charged with assault

It happened last month at an Eastern Carver County Schools hearing.

Marcus Foligno

Marcus Foligno throws hands, scores game-winning goal in Wild's opener

The Wild forward scored with 7.2 seconds left to beat Anaheim.

Screen Shot 2021-10-15 at 10.01.55 PM

Large police presence at Emagine Willow Creek movie theater in Plymouth

There are few details at this stage as to what has happened.

Maple Grove Police Department

Maple Grove-based businessman convicted of fatally shooting wife

Wiseman owns properties in both Minnesota, Nevada and China.

betty and earls biscuits facebook

Jason Matheson's biscuit shop to briefly close ahead of relaunch

Betty & Earl's will shut down for two weeks before reopening under a new name.