Six foreigners, incl American, get jail in UAE over YouTube mockumentary

Six foreigners, incl American, get jail in UAE over YouTube mockumentary
Six foreigners from the US, Canada and Britain have been sentenced to a $2,725 fine and up to a year behind bars in a United Arab Emirates maximum security prison over a YouTube video mocking Dubai ‘gangsta’ youth culture.

The US national Shezanne Cassim, 29, was detained in the UAE in April for posting the 20 minute parody video which made fun of young men and boys from the city who seem to imitate US hiphop culture.

The American aviation business consultant was charged with endangering security in the UAE by violating a cybercrime law. The wording of the law makes it unacceptable to commit acts deemed damaging to the nation’s reputation, with the collective standing accused of “defaming the UAE society's image abroad,” according to state-owned newspaper The National.

As well as the prison sentence, Cassim received a 10,000 dirhams ($2,725) fine for the video, which was entitled “Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa Gs”.

The video opens with the disclaimer that the “following events are fictional and no offence was intended to the people of Satwa and UAE.” In the 20-minute short that follows, the men who perceive themselves to be deadly gangsters practice throwing sandals at sheets of newspaper and using phones to call for ‘backup’ as a method of evading trouble.

“Now I show you one very, very dangerous weapon: this is called the agal,” claims the fictional tutor of the ‘gang’. The agal is the cord used to secure headscarves, and the men practice making whipping motions with it. The video seems to mock the pseudo-aggressive behavior of youth that are inherently mild-mannered.

screenshot from youtube video by user VisaCancel

Alongside Cassim, two Indians who were also on trial were given the same sentence on Monday. Two Emirati defendants were each given eight months, while one was pardoned.

Three more were sentenced in absentia - a Canadian woman, a British woman and an American man - and fined the same 10,000 dirhams ($2,725).

Cassim’s familiy, who live in the US, stated that they are “now trying to confirm whether the one-year imprisonment includes time served or means additional jail time,” according to Reuters. Cassim was arrested in April.

Gulf states have observed an increasingly severe crackdown on internet freedoms over the past two years. In November, an Abu Dhabi court sentenced a man to two years in prison for tweeting about a political trial.

State worker Waleed al-Shehhi was also fined 500,000 dirhams (approximately $137,000). Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab and Bahrain have all joined the UAE in this crackdown.

A Bahraini blogger and human rights activist, Ali Abduleman was granted political asylum in the UK in May after being ‘forced into hiding’ by the regime.

In June this year, Qatar also approved a range of new measures aimed at monitoring the online activity of its citizens, while in Saudi Arabia, three lawyers are currently facing trial, accused of posting messages on social media which were critical of the authorities.