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American citizen in maximum-security prison in the UAE over satirical YouTube video

An American citizen is being held in a maximum-security prison in the United Arab Emirates after posting a satirical YouTube video. He is the first foreign national to be charged with the country's draconian cybercrimes decree.



Shezanne Cassim (29) posted a mock documentary spoofing youth culture in Dubai. For this he has been charged, among other things, with violating Article 28 of the cybercrimes law. This bans using "information technology to publish caricatures that are 'liable to endanger state security and its higher interests or infringe on public order'" and is punishable by jail time and a fine of up to 1 million dirhams (US$272,000). The video was posted on 10 October 2012, and the law only came into force over a month later, on 12 November.

Cassim, an American citizen who moved to Dubai in 2006, was arrested on 7 April 2013 and had his passport confiscated. A trial date has not yet been set, and a spokesperson for his family says he has been denied bail on three occasions. He is currently being held in al-Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi, together with a number of other foreign nationals who took part in the video but who wish to remain anonymous.

Rori Donaghy, Director of the Emirates Centre for Human rights, said in a statement that the case has "worrying implications for all expatriates living and working in the UAE."

"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."

This story was originally published on the Index on Censorship site.
What other IFEX members are saying
  • US Citizen Charged Under UAE Cybercrime Decree

    Digital repression is a common feature of the Gulf states, but things have become particularly worse in the Emirates since the 2012 decree. In the past few months the government has: tried to shut down an Arab-American news site hosted in Germany; arrested an Egyptian journalist and numerous citizens; and sentenced an activist to two years in prison for tweeting about a trial. Last year, the country played host to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), where it pushed for stricter Internet controls.

  • Dispatches: UAE - Yes to Film Festivals, No to Free Expression

    “Deadly Satwa G-s”, the 19-minute video posted to YouTube by five young local filmmakers, parodies the faux-gangsta posturing of a group of young, wealthy Emiratis. But satire - even the gentle variety - can land you in jail in the UAE just as quickly as the public expression of political views. Officials have held the young men, one a US citizen, since April, and charged them with endangering national security under the UAE’s cybercrime law.

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