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UAE frees American jailed for YouTube parody video

11 January, 2014

DUBAI: A US citizen who spent nine months in jail in the United Arab Emirates for posting a parody video on YouTube, was released and returned home to the United States.

Shezanne Cassim, 29, was sentenced to a year in prison in the Gulf Arab state last month on cybercrime charges over a 20-minute "mockumentary" video that poked fun at young Emirati men who imitate US hip-hop culture.

Cassim had been detained since April and his family said in a statement that he had been released "according to a customary practice that equates nine months of imprisonment to a one-year sentence."

Cassim, who is from Minnesota, told a news conference after he arrived at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport on Thursday that he had broken no laws.

"I did nothing wrong," he said. "There was nothing illegal about the video even under UAE law. I was tried in a textbook kangaroo court and I was convicted without any evidence."

Cassim said he was held with limited information in a prison with few facilities and was not told what crime he was accused of until about five months after he was apprehended.

"It's a warning message and we are scapegoats," he said.

There was no immediate comment from UAE authorities.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department welcomed Cassim's release.

"We've consistently raised this issue about his arrest and trial specifically with UAE officials," spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular news briefing. "We have continuously pressed for a fair and expedient resolution as we were deeply concerned by the verdict."

In the video posted on Google Inc's YouTube in 2012, Emirati men were jokingly described as "deadly gangsters" and can be seen practicing throwing sandals and wielding an agal - the cord used to keep in place traditional Arab headscarves.

The video opened with a disclaimer stating it was fictional and did not intend to offend the people of the UAE.

Cassim, an aviation business consultant, was charged with violating UAE's cybercrimes law, which makes acts deemed damaging to the country's reputation or national security punishable by fines and jail time. Cassim was also fined 10,000 dirhams.

Last year, an Abu Dhabi court jailed a man for two years for tweeting about a political trial, highlighting the sensitivity of Gulf Arab states to political dissent, criticism of senior officials and comments which they regard as blasphemous, especially on social media.

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