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Dubai jails Lanka-born man

2013 Dec 24

A court in the United Arab Emirates sentenced eight people including a Sri Lanka-born American to up to a year in prison Monday after being convicted in connection to a satirical video about youth culture in Dubai.

The video they produced and uploaded to the internet was a spoof documentary of would-be “gangsta” youth in the Gulf Arab city-state. The state-owned daily The National said they were accused of “defaming the image of United Arab Emirates society abroad.” Supporters of the defendants reported that they were charged under a 2012 cybercrimes law that tightened penalties for challenging authorities.

Shezanne Cassim, a 29-year-old US citizen from Woodbury, Minnesota, became the public face of the defendants after his family launched an effort to publicize his months-long incarceration following his arrest in April.

Cassim, who was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Dubai for work after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006, was sentenced Monday to a year in prison followed by deportation and received a 10,000 dirham (US$2,725) fine, according to family spokeswoman Jennifer Gore.

Cassim’s brother, Shervon, called the ruling “painful and unfair.” “Shez is coming up on nine months incarceration for making a parody. This isn’t justice,” he said in a statement.

American consular officials have been following the case closely and attended Monday’s hearing at the State Security Court in the federal capital, Abu Dhabi.

Two Indian defendants received similar sentences, while two Emirati brothers were sentenced to eight months behind bars and received 5,000 dirham fines, according to The National. A third brother was pardoned.

Three other defendants, a Canadian, Briton and an American, were convicted and sentenced in absentia to the penalties given to their other foreigners. They have never been detained by authorities and so are unlikely to serve their sentences.

The video, called “Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa Gs,” is set in the Satwa district of Dubai. It is a documentary style clip that pokes fun at Dubai youth who styled themselves “gangstas” but are not particularly thuggish, and shows fictional “combat” training that includes throwing a sandal and using a mobile phone to call for help.

It opens with text saying the video is fictional and is not meant to offend.

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