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UAE jails American for YouTube parody

ABU DHABI, Dec 23, (Agencies): An American citizen was sentenced to a year in prison in the United Arab Emirates on Monday for posting a parody video on YouTube which pokes fun at young Emirati men who imitate US hip-hop culture, his family said. Shezanne Cassim, 29, has been detained in the United Arab Emirates since April after publishing the 20- minute “mockumentary” film In the video, which opens with a disclaimer stating it is fictional and does not intend to offend the people of the UAE, Emirati men described as “deadly gangsters” can be seen practising throwing sandals and wielding an agal, the cord used to keep in place traditional headscarves.

Cassim, an aviation business consultant, was charged with violating the Gulf nation’s cyber crime law which makes acts deemed damaging to the country’s reputation or national security punishable by jail time and heavy fines. He was sentenced to jail by an Abu Dhabi court, and also fined 10,000 dirhams ($2,723), said his family who live in the United States. “The family is now trying to confirm whether the one-year imprisonment includes time served or means additional jail time,” they said in a statement.

Cassim’s lawyer and the US embassy in Abu Dhabi could not be immediately reached for comment. Court officials also could not be reached for comment. Last month, 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 to comments they regard as blasphemous, especially on social media. Cassim posted the parody video online last year. The film, shot in Dubai’s Al Satwa area, just a few miles away from the landmark Burj Khalifa tower, remains available on YouTube.

Two Indians on trial alongside Cassim were given the same sentence, two Emirati defendants were sentenced to eight months in prison each and one Emirati was pardoned, according to activists.

A further three defendants were each given a one-year prison sentence in absentia and fined 10,000 dirhams. In an unrelated development, Dubai police have made a record drug seizure of some 4.6 million Captagon pills, an amphetamine-like stimulant, worth more than $31 million (23 million euros), the local press reported Monday. Dubai’s police chief, Major General Khamis Mattar al-Mazeina, said the “outstanding operation” codenamed “Nine ball” had dealt a major blow to drug trafficking in the United Arab Emirates, the Khaleej Times newspaper reported. Mazeina said five people of different Arab nationalities were implicated in the shipment, three of whom have been arrested.

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