An American citizen is the first foreign national imprisoned in the UAE in violation of a new cybercrimes law.
It began in October 2013, when twenty-nine year old Shezanne Cassim uploaded a satirical video he and a group of friends had made. Six months later, he and his four friends received phone calls from Dubai police instructing them to report to police headquarters with their passport. Cassim and the others were placed in detention.
Cassim was arrested April 7 and is being held in a maximum-security prison. If convicted, he faces jail and as much as $250,000 in fines.
His crime? Cassim is accused of using the internet to publish “caricatures” that are “liable to endanger state security and its higher interests or infringe on public order.”
The video begins with a disclaimer that all material presented in the video is fictional and no offense was intended to the UAE or to the people of Satwa.
The video, says Cassim family spokesperson, presents a humorous and ironic portrayal of Satwa youth, specifically focusing on the ‘Satwa G’ stereotype.
The term “Satwa Gs” was coined by Dubai teenagers in Dubai during the 1990s. “Satwa Gs” were described ironically as “gangstas” because of their affinity for rap music and adoption of hip-hop fashion. The ‘Satwa Gs’ stereotype portrays youth who spent time in Satwa as good-for-nothings who liked to loiter and start fights that were never followed through on. They were never taken seriously and were also often ridiculed for their lack of actual fighting prowess (hence why there was no real follow-through when they started fights – their barks were bigger than their bites).
Therein lies the irony of the parody: “Satwa Gs” who attend a fictional street-fighting school to learn how to fight defend themselves. Their weapons are useless:
- The naal is a sandal worn by nearly every male in the UAE;
- The agal is the black cord that hold’s a man’s white gutrah (headcovering) in place; and
- The mobile phone is shown as the school’s most effective weapon, a means of calling for backup.
UAE Federal Legal Decree No. 5/ 2012 on cybercrimes was issued on November 12, 2012.
The Emirates Centre for Human Rights says the law has up until now only been used to Emirati activists.
Human Rights Watch Middle East director Joe Stork says the decree “reflects an attempt to ban even the most tempered criticism” and is “incompatible with the image UAE rulers are trying to promote of a progressive, tolerant nation.”
Cassim’s parents, residents of Woodbury, Minnesota, are currently in Dubai seeking release of their son. Cassim’s brother Shervon Cassim, speaking for the whole family, says, “We are emotionally and physically drained. Our son and brother is locked up in a desert prison seven thousand miles away, and we have been trying to secure his release for eight months. We are tired, we are frustrated, and we are terrified because we don’t know how much longer this will go on.”
What do you think about the case? Feel free to comment after watching the video, below: