Concern for US man held in UAE for comic YouTube video

WASHINGTON- Comedians including Will Ferrell are lending star power to a campaign to free a 29-year-old American jailed since April in the United Arab Emirates after making a YouTube video poking fun at Dubai teenagers.
Shezzane Cassim, known as Shez by his friends, has been held for eight months after being charged with endangering the UAE's national security under a federal cyber crimes law.

His trial is still ongoing, with the next hearing believed to be set for Monday. A verdict had been expected since September, but the hearing has been delayed five times.
The silly 19-minute comic video, called the "Satwa Comedy School," gently parodies Dubai teenagers from the Satwa district who styled themselves as tough "gangstas" wearing hip-hip clothes and listening to rap music, but who in reality were known for very mild behavior.
In the mock documentary, Cassim and his friends learn the latest techniques of "Satwa G's combat" which include the correct way to throw a shoe at a newspaper, and how in extreme cases to use a mobile phone to call for back-up.
In a video released on the website #FreeShez, Ferrell says he's supporting the campaign to win Cassim's release as he has been "wrongly jailed for simply making a video."
"Basically Dubai if you want to be viewed as an international place, destination, don't put people in jail for making silly videos," added Adam McKay, who directed Ferrell in "Anchorman."
Other comedians, including Patton Oswalt and former Saturday Night Live cast member Horatio Sanz, also appear in the video.
Cassim, who hails from Minnesota, had been living in UAE since 2006 working for PriceWaterHouseCoopers.
He is now being held in a maximum-security prison outside Abu Dhabi.
"My Christmas wish is that this nightmare will soon be over and Shez will be back with us safe at home where he belongs," his mother, Jean, wrote on the #FreeShez website.
She described her son as "a comedian at heart" who loved a good practical joke, adding "all he wanted to do was make people laugh."
The US State Department, which has already voiced concerns about the cyber crimes law under which Cassim was charged, has been actively raising his case with the Emirati authorities.
Washington was "troubled by the prolonged incarceration" of Cassim, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
Cassim had been held for five months before he was even notified of the charges against him. It is understood that his friends, who are not US nationals, who made the satirical comedy with him have also been jailed and charged.
"We are providing him consular services. Both US embassy Abu Dhabi and the US Consulate General Dubai personnel have visited him regularly and attend all his court hearings," Harf added.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who visited the UAE in November, has also been briefed about Cassim's case.

Sunday, December 15th 2013

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