Shezanne Cassim, an American living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), was sentenced to one year in prison Monday and fined 10,000 UAE dirhams (about $2,700) after posting a video parody about youth culture in Dubai.
The Associated Press reported the video was a spoof documentary about wannabe “gangsta” youth in the Gulf Arab city-state.
Cassim, 29, who lives in the UAE, has been imprisoned since April and was sentenced along with seven other people. He is being accused of defaming the country’s image abroad, according to The National, a state-owned daily newspaper. The defendants were reportedly charged the defendants under a 2012 cybercrimes law that tightened penalties for challenging authorities.
Cassim, from Woodbury, Minn., moved to Dubai in 2006 after graduating from the University of Minnesota to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers.
He and his friends made and posted the video on the Internet in 2012.
According to CNN, Cassim was interrogated and arrested in Dubai, and then transferred to a maximum security prison in Abu Dhabi. He wasn’t notified of the charges against him until five months later, his family said.
Shervon, Cassim’s brother, described the ruling as “painful and unfair.”
“Shez is coming up on nine months incarceration for making a parody,” he said in a statement. “This isn’t justice.”
Marie Harf, State Department deputy spokeswoman, called for “a fair and expedient trial and judgment,” concerned that Cassim’s incarceration was being prolonged.
Two Indian defendants faced similar sentences, two Emirati brother were sentenced to eight months in prison and fined 5,000 dirham, and a third brother was pardoned, The National reports.
The 20-minute short video is called “The Ultimate Combat System: The Satwa Gs,” which is set in the Satwa district of Dubai. The documentary style clip makes fun of Dubai youth who consider themselves “gangstas” but are not particularly thuggish, and shows them being trained to throw sandals at targets using clothing accessories as whips, and how to call on the phone for backup.
The opening text of the video says that it is fictional and is not meant to offend anyone.
Funny or Die, a comedy video website co-founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, joined the fight to raise awareness about the situation.
“Basically Dubai, if you want to be viewed as an international place, destination — don’t put people in jail for making silly videos,” McKay says in a video posted earlier this month. “…It’s one thing to have a bad sense of humor. It’s another thing to lock somebody up because of it.”
Watch the video in its entirety below: