MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota man is opening up about spending nine months in a United Arab Emirates prison.
Authorities arrested 29-year-old Shez Cassim after he posted a video to YouTube poking fun at the local youth culture.
Authorities held him prisoner without giving him a reason for his arrest. He was eventually accused of violating a newly-enacted cybercrimes law and convicted in December. A judge sentenced him to one year in prison.
Cassim arrived in Minnesota in early January.
The physical changes were noticeable. His hair was longer and he had lost weight while behind bars.
But nine months in prison are bound to bring changes you can’t see.
“The conditions were just so bad that, to me, it amounts to psychological torture,” Cassim said.
He admits he’s just beginning to process his imprisonment.
“Some of the hardest things I faced was when I came in, which was the middle of the summer,” he said. “It was 120 degrees outside, the ACs were not working on the inside.”
As he reflects back, one emotion keeps resurfacing.
“It’s hard to kind of get over the betrayal,” Cassim said.
That betrayal has roots in his passion for the country. Cassim spent his childhood in the UAE before moving to Minnesota as a teenager.
Cassim returned to the country after college for a job with Emirates Airline. For him, it was a chance to celebrate the diverse culture and promote the country.
He said his YouTube video was an extension of that and part of the reason, he says, his arrest cuts deep.
“The way I was just treated like [a] criminal, not really told what I did wrong, not given any options to get out and not really treated fairly,” he said.
The healing process is being helped along by the support of family, friends, lawmakers, and strangers who fought for his release.
“The amount of support that I’ve got is just unreal,” Cassim said. “It’s great to come back and have this love that people have been showing me here.”
Physically, Shez is a free man, ready to move forward, yet he’s still challenged by the part of him that remains captive.
“I hope it goes away, but for the time being, it’s always on my mind,” Cassim said.
Cassim and his family are looking at pursuing legal action.
He’s thinking of writing a book or going back to law school.
He has no plans on returning to the UAE.