American imprisoned in Dubai for posting satirical video on YouTube

An American citizen is being held in a maximum-security prison in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after being arrested for posting a satirical video on YouTube.


Shezanne Cassim, 29, was arrested on April 7th 2013 and has had his passport seized by authorities after they accused him of violating the country’s cybercrimes decree.


Until now, the cybercrimes decree has been used to prosecute Emirati activists who challenge the treatment of political activists in the country and Cassim becomes the first foreign national to be charged with violating the law.


The video, a 19-minute spoof of youth culture in Dubai, was posted on October 10th 2012 whilst the law Cassim has been charged with violating was only passed on November 12th 2012.


The video is a mock documentary in which Cassim profiles a fictional ‘Satwa Combat School’ in which students are taught to throw sandals as weapons and use social media for backup when under attack. The video begins with the caveat “no offence was intended to the United Arab Emirates”.


Cassim is an American citizen who was born in Sri Lanka and graduated from the University of Minnesota before moving to Dubai to work as a consultant in 2006.


Cassim was transferred to al-Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi in June and is being held with a number of other foreign nationals who participated in the video but who wish to protect their identity for now.


The charges include violating Article 28 of the cybercrimes decree, which provides for imprisonment and a fine of up to 1 million dirhams ($272,000) for anyone who uses information technology to publish caricatures that are “liable to endanger state security and its higher interests or infringe on public order”.


No date has been set for the trial and a family spokesperson told the Emirates Centre for Human Rights that Cassim has been refused bail on three occasions. The spokesperson said that Cassim has spoken with family members intermittently and in those conversations he has not alleged that he has been mistreated.


Rori Donaghy, director, said:


“Shezanne Cassim is the first foreign national to be charged with violating the cybercrimes law and this has worrying implications for all expatriates living and working in the UAE. Expatriates will be concerned that if they make a joke about life in Dubai that they could end up in prison like Cassim.


Cassim has been thrown in prison for posting a silly video on YouTube and authorities must immediately release him as he has clearly not endangered state security in any way.”


The case raises a number of concerns about free expression in the UAE, with what is clearly a spoof video being said to endanger state security. It is of grave concern that a law passed in November 2012 is being retrospectively used to prosecute people for acts committed prior to its passing.


The Emirates Centre for Human Rights calls on authorities to release Shezanne Cassim and his co-defendants and repeal a law that is having a chilling effect on free speech.


For further information please contact Rori Donaghy on +44(0)7850062105 or at campaigns@echr.org.uk

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