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UAE to release American

MINNEAPOLIS, Jan 8, (AP): An American who’s 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 their spoof documentary to the Internet. The United Arab Emiratesowned 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. “I can’t tell you how relieved our family is by this turn of events,” Cassim’s brother, Shervon Cassim, said in a statement. “We are very excited, and we are grateful to everyone who worked to free Shez.” 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 Londonbased Emirates Center for Human Rights, said a defendant’s release after serving three-fourths of a sentence is customary. Donaghy said Cassim and his friends never should have been imprisoned, and the cybercrimes law needs to be changed, as authorities have continued to use it to restrict free speech. 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.

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