UPDATE: Spoof Video Maker Seeks Restitution, Pardon From UAE Government

Posted May 5th, 2015 at 1:06 pm (UTC+0)
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More than a year and a half ago, we brought you the story of an American citizen jailed in the UAE for making a spoof YouTube video.

In October 2013, Shezanne Cassim and a group of friends produced a video which poked fun at  some youths in the Satwa neighborhood of Dubai. Dubbed the “Satwa Gs” back in the 1990s, they were stereotyped as “ganstas” who adopted hip hop and rap culture, music and dress — with a lot of false bravado.

The video (below) shows a fictional street-fighting school where the Gs learn how to fight defend themselves – using ridiculous weapons such as the sandals which are worn by UAE men.

Six months after posting the video on YouTube, Cassim found himself locked inside a maximum-security prison, charged with using the internet to publish “caricatures” that are “liable to endanger state security and its higher interests or infringe on public order.”

Cassim served nine months in prison and was deported to the United States in January of this year.  Now, Cassim is appealing to the government of the UAE for a full pardon, restitution to himself and his family — and finally, to be allowed back into the country which, he says, is the only home he’s really ever known.

In a May 9 letter UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Cassim asks for amends for harm done to himself and his family:

My time in prison destroyed my career, and my family’s efforts to secure my release nearly bankrupted them. My imprisonment caused significant financial and emotional hardship, and we all felt betrayed by the country in which my siblings and I grew up and for whose growth my parents gave decades of their lives.
Today, Cassim is living in Minnesota, a long way from the place he calls home.
“That is probably the most traumatic part of my experiences,” he said.  “From the family I left behind to the childhood friends that I’ve known for almost 25 years.  There’s a good chance I’m not going to see a lot of them again.  To have all that just stripped from you is extremely traumatic.”

Being separated from the UAE is hard enough, but what makes it worse, says Cassim, is that he feels he was convicted of a crime he did not commit.

His lawyer Susan Burns says she is mystified over Cassim’s legal treatment.

“The video is a far cry from anything that could even remotely be called terrorist activity,” she said.  And she points to a January 13, 2015 interview with BBC TV, in which the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was asked about Cassim’s case.

Sheikh Maktoum’s answer?

“We’re not perfect, but we are doing our best.”

What do you think?  Take a look at the video, below, and share your thoughts.


Cecily Hilleary
Cecily began her reporting career in the 1990s, covering US Middle East policy for an English-language network in the UAE. She has lived and/or worked in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf, consulting and producing for several regional radio and television networks and production houses, including MBC, Al-Arabiya, the former Emirates Media Incorporated and Al-Ikhbaria. She brings to VOA a keen understanding of global social, cultural and political issues.

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About rePRESSEDed

VOA reporter Cecily Hilleary monitors the state of free expression and free speech around the world.



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