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Minnesota man stateside after 9 months in UAE prison

FNS Photo by Riham Feshir / Woodbury Bulletin Shezanne Cassim landed Thursday at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after spending nine months in a United Arab Emirates prison for a charge he said was unjust.

MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota man who spent nine months in a United Arab Emirates prison for making a spoof video landed on U.S. soil Thursday after being freed this week.

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Dressed in a navy blazer with long hair covering most of his face, Shezanne “Shez” Cassim landed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, appearing significantly different from the video that put him in the maximum security prison.

Cassim said he had no idea that “Ultimate Combat System: Deadly Satwa Gs” would have those repercussions.

“There is a misconception that I broke a law,” he said. “I did nothing wrong, there was nothing illegal about the video, even under UAE laws.”

Cassim, 29, is a University of Minnesota alumnus and 2002 Woodbury High School graduate who was working as a business consultant in the aviation division of PricewaterhouseCooper at the time of his arrest in April.

He was arrested for allegedly violating cyber-crimes laws and threatening national security. He went to court nine times before his one-year sentence was handed down in December.

Cassim said he was put in the Abu Dhabi prison without really understanding what crime he committed.

“I was tried in a textbook kangaroo court, and I was convicted without any evidence,” he said. “To me this verdict is meaningless.”

He said he was frustrated with the process and wanted to resolve the matter peacefully, something the UAE government wasn’t interested in.

“After four sessions, we found out that the judge hasn’t even watched the video,” he said.

The YouTube video Cassim produced pokes fun at the “Al Satwa” district of Dubai and its youth hip-hop culture. It takes place in a makeshift martial arts school and uses weapons like shoes to fight street gangs and social media as backup.

Cassim said he believes the country is “scared of democracy” and that the government was sending a message to the UAE public by arresting him and his peers who were involved in making the short mockumentary.

“Imagine if you do something that’s actually critical of the government,” he said. “So it’s a warning message and we were the scapegoats.”

Cassim said he was happy to be home.

“It feels great,” he said. “I have access to Burger King again, so that’s a big plus for me.”

Even after nine months in a cell with zero access to the outside world, Cassim seemed to be in good spirits, cracking a few jokes before heading home with his family.

“The only positive thing is that by putting me in prison the Dubai police helped me to break my ice cream addiction,” he said.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.