Shezanne “Shez” Cassim is an American from Woodbury, Minnesota, who has been imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates since April 2013 for posting an amateur comedy video on YouTube. Shez has been living in Dubai since 2006, where he is employed as a business consultant.
On the night of April 7, Shez was asked to report to Dubai Police Headquarters where his passport was confiscated and he was detained. Within 12 hours he had been questioned, fingerprinted and made to sign a statement written in Arabic—which he couldn’t read—and had been denied an attorney. At no time was Cassim made aware that he had been arrested, nor was he ever advised of his rights.
The detailed activities Shez experienced are chilling and are not what a modern society would consider due process:
- At the beginning of his interrogation, Shez offered to take down the video, but the officers laughed and asked “How can you take down the video? YouTube is a company in America.”
- Shez was moved from room to room several times during the late night of April 7 and early morning of April 8. During this time, police gave Shez a polygraph test. One officer told him “Nice video, now you will eat dal [lentils] for five years.”
- He was made to give a verbal statement early in the morning on April 8. Police informed him that the polygraph test revealed “no evidence of deception.”
- Shez asked for an attorney, but police responded “What difference will a lawyer make?”
- He was made to sign a document written in Arabic that he could not read.
- Shez was cuffed and transferred to the detention facility at Bur Dubai Police Station.
Shez’s case was transferred to the federal State Security Court in June 2013, and he is now in a maximum-security prison outside Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. For posting the comedy sketch, Cassim has been accused of endangering the U.A.E.’s national security under a federal “Cyber Crimes Law.”
The video that caused the issue is a satirical comedy called “Satwa Combat School” set in the Satwa district of Dubai. In the 1990s, Dubai teenagers coined the term “Satwa Gs” to describe people in their age group who had adopted hip-hop fashion and listened to rap music. These “gangstas” were known for their decidedly mild behavior and were seen as the total opposite of actual criminals. The fictional training depicted in the video teaches techniques that include the best way to throw a sandal at a newspaper and, ultimately, how to use the mobile phone when in trouble. That’s the extent of the “Satwa Gs’” combat.
Shez has consistently been denied bail, and he has been denied a private meeting with his attorneys by prosecutors, who have control over a defendant’s access to counsel. Court dates are constantly postponed, and there seems to be no end in sight to Shez’s detention. Help us turn up the pressure to #FreeShez by spreading the word and taking action!