MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Shezanne “Shez” Cassim has been held in a maximum security prison in the United Arab Emirates for more than eight months. On Tuesday, his family pleaded for supporters to sign a petition to help win his release.
The Woodbury High School and University of Minnesota graduate is from the Twin Cities and was working in Dubai when he was arrested. Police there jailed him for a satirical video he posted to YouTube poking fun at the local youth rap culture.
Cassim’s siblings are hoping to use political pressure to help win their brother’s release.
“Shez is in jail for making a video, and we call for his human rights to be recognized and he be released,” said his brother, Shervon Cassim.
The 29-year-old has been working as a consultant in Dubai since graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006.
In his eight months in captivity, Cassim has been denied bail and due process. He was also forced to sign court documents written in Arabic, which he cannot read.
He is charged with violating the country’s newly enacted cyber-crimes law. But what his captors call a crime, human rights advocates say is a violation of free expression.
“This is a video that any of us…might have posted to YouTube, to be seen and laughed at,” said Barbara Frey, director of Human Rights program at the University of Minnesota.
Family and friends are also enlisting the help of Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, as well as the U.S. State Department. They hope millions more will sign a world-wide petition to “free Shez” and help apply pressure to the United Arab Emirates court.
“The more we have a chance to speak to Shez Cassim the more we worry about his well-being,” said his sister, Shalali Cassim.
Comedian Wil Ferrell’s comedy page, Funny or Die.com, is drawing attention to Shez Cassim’s plight on the website.
Ironically, the Dubai International Film Festival is now taking place, and it’s showing the acclaimed Nelson Mandela film, “A Long Walk to Freedom.”
Shez Cassim’s next hearing is Dec. 16, when a judge could decide his fate. With that date looming, Klobuchar met on Tuesday with the U.S. ambassador to the UAE, Michael Corbin, who promised to make the case his highest priority.
For more information on Shez Cassim’s imprisonment or to sign the petition to the UAE government, visit www.freeshez.com.