ECHR | Emirates Center for Human Rights

ECHR | Emirates Center for Human Rights
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Jailed Dubai filmmakers: judgment postponed for 6th time

16/12/2013

Jailed Dubai filmmakers: judgment postponed for 6th time

A state security court in Abu Dhabi has postponed judgment in the case of 5 young men jailed for making a comedy video about youth culture in Dubai, today, December 16th.

American Shezanne Cassim, along with his four co-defendants, attended court anticipating a final judgment but this was postponed for an unspecified reason and another court session scheduled for December 23rd.

The five defendants have been in prison since their arrest on April 7th and are currently being held at a maximum-security prison in Abu Dhabi. They are charged with violating articles of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) cybercrimes law, which provides for heavy fines and unspecified prison sentences in the event of the Internet being used to “endanger state security and its higher interests”.

The film that landed Shezanne Cassim and his friends in jail, “Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa Gs”, has received more than 170,000 views on YouTube and playfully satirises youth culture in a Dubai suburb.

It has become clear that the defendants have been denied access to proper legal assistance, as when Cassim asked to see a lawyer police responded: “What difference will a lawyer make?” Cassim has also told family members that he was ‘”made” to sign a document in Arabic, a language that he does not understand.

The filmmakers’ experiences are consistent with others in the UAE’s prison system. A recent survey of prisoners at Dubai Central Prison revealed that 96% of prisoners did not have a lawyer present when interviewed by police and 85% signed documents that were not translated into a language they understood.

The family of Shezanne Cassim has launched a campaign to have him released and his brother, Shervon Cassim, said today: “We cannot tell you how much heartache our family feels everyday. We were hoping that since the court finally got a translation of the video that the court would see the video is fictional – as it says on the initial screenshot. But now we are in wait-and-see mode again.”

The case has gained widespread coverage in the New York TimesCNN andBBC among others and Will Ferrell’s comedy website Funny or Die has joined the cause by launching their own campaign calling for Shezanne’s release.

Rori Donaghy, director, said:

“Authorities have treated Shezanne and his friends cruelly by continually postponing a final judgment in the case, which is prolonging the suffering for everyone involved.

Authorities must act swiftly to put an end to this case, by releasing the filmmakers and moving to repeal the cybercrimes law that severely restricts free expression in the UAE.”

For further information please contact Rori Donaghy on +447850062105 or atcampaigns@echr.org.uk

Family Statement released today, December 16th:

 

Facebook page:  facebook.com/justiceforshez

Twitter: @justiceforshez #freeshez

Website: www.freeshez.com

U.S. Family Painfully Disappointed by UAE Government Refusal to Release their Son and Brother

Day 253 of Imprisonment for amateur filmmaker Shezanne “Shez” Cassim  

MINNEAPOLIS—Shezanne “Shez” Cassim, the American incarcerated in the United Arab Emirates, for uploading a satirical sketch comedy to the Internet, will remain in an Abu Dhabi maximum security prison for the foreseeable future. A judgment in the case has been postponed for the sixth time.

Shez Cassim of Woodbury, Minn., has been detained in the United Arab Emirates since April 7, 2013  date for posting an amateur comedy video on YouTube in 2012. For posting the comedy sketch, Cassim has been accused of endangering the U.A.E.’s national security under a federal “Cyber Crimes Law.” It is possible Cassim is being held on additional charges but prosecutors in the UAE will not confirm the charges. After a court appearance on September 30, Shez was informed that a final judgment would be issued on October 28. The judgment was postponed on that date and has been postponed five more times since then as the judge waited for Dubai Police to translate the video into Arabic. The judge only requested that the video be translated on November 14, over seven months into Cassim’s detention. The court has now received the translation, but judgment has again been postponed.

This is the sixth consecutive postponement of a final judgment. Another court appearance has been scheduled for December 23, 2013.

“We cannot tell you how much heartache our family feels every day,” said Shez’s brother Shervon Cassim of Durham, N.C. “We were hoping that since the court finally got a translation of the video that the court would see the video is fictional—as it says on the initial screen shot. But now we are in wait-and-see mode again and Shez won’t be home for Christmas, which has been our mother’s prayer.”

The UAE Court could find Shezanne Cassim not guilty and release him next week or rule he’s guilty and release him with time served. The Court could also find guilty and sentence Shez to an unspecified amount of additional jail time.

If the judge actually issues a judgement on December 23rd Shez will have served 260 days—for making a satirical comedy video and uploading it to YouTube.com.

On the night of April 7, Cassim was asked to report to Dubai Police Headquarters and he was detained.  Within 12 hours he had been questioned, fingerprinted and made to sign a statement written in Arabic—which he couldn’t read—and had been denied an attorney. At no time was Cassim made aware that he had been arrested, nor was he ever advised of his rights.

Cassim’s case has since been transferred to the federal State Security Court, and he is now in a maximum-security prison in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. For posting the comedy sketch, Cassim has been accused of endangering the U.A.E.’s national security under a federal “Cyber Crimes Law.”

The video that caused the issue is a satirical comedy called “Satwa Combat School” set in the Satwa district of Dubai.  In the 1990s, Dubai teenagers coined the term “Satwa Gs” to describe people in their age group who had adopted hip-hop fashion and listened to rap music.  These “gangstas” were known for their decidedly mild behavior and were seen as the total opposite of actual criminals.  The fictional training depicted in the video teaches techniques that include the best way to throw a sandal at a newspaper and, ultimately, how to use the mobile phone when in trouble.  That’s the extent of the “Satwa Gs’” combat.

The Will Ferrell and Adam McKay comedy website www.funnyordie.com last week launched a campaign for the comedy community in support of Shez.  The organization’s #FreeShez video was released on December 10th, which is U.N. Human Rights Day.

 

Funny or Die is also selling #FreeShez t-shirts, proceeds of which go to the Free Shezanne Cassim Fund

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