MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Woodbury family is fighting to get their son out of a prison in Abu Dhabi. He’s been living in Dubai for the last seven years working as a business consultant.
But 29-year-old Shezanne Cassim was put in prison because the government didn’t like a parody video he posted on YouTube.
His family says he made it with some friends as a spoof about young people in Dubai.
United Arab Emirates officials say it violates cybercrimes law and poses a threat to national security.
The video was uploaded in October of last year. And then in April of this year, Cassim and four others who appear in it were thrown in jail.
In June, they were moved to a maximum-security prison.
Cassim’s parents, brother and sister have taken turns visiting him in Abu Dhabi. They say he is sharing a cell with his four friends and has lost a lot of weight.
“Part of the frustration is that he is essentially in there indefinitely, with no end in sight. He doesn’t understand what they think he’s done wrong,” said Shervon Cassim, his brother.
The mock documentary shows a fictional place where young people learn how to fight by striking others with belts and throwing sandals.
“The goal of it was to parody a certain cultural stereotype about the youth in Dubai,” his brother said. “It’s just teenagers living in a suburb called Satwa who try to act like they are tough guys, even though they are suburban teenagers. And it’s like making fun of hipsters in Brooklyn.”
The family says a judge has denied Cassim bail three times, hasn’t issued a ruling, or set a sentencing date.
Attorney Susan Burns is a family friend who is also watching the case closely and trying to help.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen and that’s the difficulty here,” she said. “There is no predictability to it. There is no end in sight. It could end tomorrow, it could keep going as it has been, postponed week after week after week after week.”
Shervon Cassim says his family hasn’t really slept since Shezanne Cassim’s arrest in April.
“We are getting anxious, because we are worried about his physical and mental condition,” he said. “Our entire lives are on hold until we know he is safe.”
Members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation are trying to help. But so far, no luck.