US Citizen Held in UAE Prison for Spoof YouTube Video

Posted December 2nd, 2013 at 7:03 pm (UTC+0)

Screen grab from Shezanne Cassim’s spoof documentary video about fictional “Satwa Combat School.” (via YouTube)



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:

  1. The naal is a sandal worn by nearly every male in the UAE;
  2. The agal is the black cord that hold’s a man’s white gutrah (headcovering)  in place;  and
  3. 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:


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.

7 responses to “US Citizen Held in UAE Prison for Spoof YouTube Video”

  1. sas says:

    Congratulations, excellent, C

  2. David says:

    If the censors watched the whole thing they have more patience than me. Maybe they got arrested for goofing around wasting their precious time on earth, but I didn’t know it was a crime.

  3. Harry says:

    It would not be the first time an innocent was imprisoned for producing a video. Obama had a guy rot in jail for a year for just that!

    All Hail The Regime and Dear Leader Obama!!

    • Cecily Hilleary Cecily Hilleary says:

      Harry, I believe your comment is a reference to Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the California man who was behind the film, the Innocence of Muslims, which sparked riots across the Muslim world. As I recall, he was not jailed for making the film; he was jailed for violation of his probation on an earlier conviction of bank fraud. According to the terms of his probation, Nakoula was not allowed to use computers or the Internet for five years without permission from his probation officer. He was also not allowed to use any aliases. He did all those things while producing and distributing the film under the name Sam Bacile.

      Those who argue that the Obama Administration put him in jail – or that he was in jail because of the film – are misinformed. But I suppose you could argue that if he hadn’t made the film, any violation of parole would never have come to light and he would never have been sent to jail.

      • Mike says:

        Stop trying to cloud our minds with facts, we only listen to knee-jerk Obama hating imbeciles here.

  4. David Stonham says:

    Ah yes, the progressive UAE government hard at work.

    It’s this kind of stupidity and arrogance that has driven so many from the Middle East (or prevented them from going there in the first place). A healthy dose of humor (especially self-deprecating) goes a long way to to proving ones self-confidence and maturity; so the UAE’s action should say allot here. This small-minded attempt at censorship is a representation of the the UAE’s “not ready for prime-time” place in the global business community.

    To all business leaders everywhere who may be reading this: Beware! Vote with you checkbook and do business elsewhere.

    David Stonham
    (former UAE resident)

  5. Mike says:

    That’s what happens when you let religious nuts run your country.


About rePRESSEDed

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



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