|Dubai boots out Sri Lanka-born American over parody video
A Sri Lanka-born American who has been held in the United Arab Emirates for nine months in connection with a satirical online video about youth culture in Dubai was expected to be released soon, the US State Department said Tuesday.
Shezanne Cassim, 29, was arrested in April, six months after he and others uploaded a spoof documentary to the internet, AP reports.
The United Arab Emirates-owned daily, The National, has said Cassim and his co-defendants were accused of defaming the country's image abroad. Cassim's supporters said he was charged with endangering state security under a 2012 cybercrimes law that tightened penalties for challenging authorities.
Cassim has been in the maximum security prison at Abu Dhabi since June. In December, he was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison, a fine and deportation.
Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a State Department spokeswoman, said Tuesday that Cassim has been moved to a deportation facility for processing.
“We understand processing will take a few days at which point he will be returning to the United States,'' she said, adding: “We continue to work closely with the UAE authorities to ensure his quick release.''
Cassim's family said Cassim is out of his cell block and in a deportation processing section of the prison. They expect him to return home this week.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Cassim has been credited with pre-trial detention time and given time off for good behavior.
Rori Donaghy, director of the London-based Emirates Center for Human Rights, said a defendant's release after serving three-fourths of a sentence is customary.
Cassim, a US citizen, was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Dubai for work after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006. He became the public face of the defendants after his family launched an effort to publicize his months-long incarceration.
Seven others were convicted with him in December. Two Indian defendants received similar sentences, while two Emirati brothers received lighter sentences. Donaghy said the Emiratis have been released. Three others _ a Canadian, Briton and an American _ were convicted and sentenced in absentia. They have never been detained.
Donaghy said another Emirati who spoke out in support of the amateur filmmakers was arrested and remains imprisoned.
Cassim's video, titled “Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa Gs,'' is set in the Satwa district of Dubai. It is a documentary-style video 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.