Shezanne "Shez" Cassim

is an American whose life changed dramatically on April 7, 2013 when he was wrongfully arrested and imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates. 
Shezanne had grown up in Dubai, and he returned there after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006. 

Shez worked for Emirates Airline for six years and had taken a position as an aviation consultant for international firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers when he was arrested for doing something millions of people do each day—posting an amateur comedy video on YouTube. 

Shez and his friends had posted the comedy video and the accompanying blooper reel in October 2012. The mockumentary-style comedy sketch poked fun at teenagers in Dubai’s Satwa district, near Shezanne’s childhood home. 

It was intended for a local audience and had received positive comments from Dubai residents... 

So, when Shezanne was called at 9 p.m. on April 7, 2013 and commanded to appear at Dubai Police Headquarters, he had no idea something was wrong—or that he would spend five months in jail without knowing the charges and languish in prison for nine months total. 

The comedy video did not violate UAE law, but ultimately UAE authorities accused Shezanne of endangering national security. They held him confined to a cell for 23 hours a day without charge, bail, or trial in a maximum-security federal prison for the majority of his nine-month detention.

UAE authorities also forced Shezanne to sign a false confession written in Arabic—a language he cannot read or understand—and denied his request for an attorney. Shez was repeatedly denied access to counsel, even after his parents spent their life savings to hire an attorney in the UAE. The Prosecution never allowed Shez to meet with his attorney or even to post bail, while the judge assigned to Shezanne’s case repeatedly failed to appear in court with no explanation as to where he was or what he was doing. The UAE Supreme Court accepted the false confession without questioning how it had been obtained.

After sustained efforts by family, friends, human-rights activists, and celebrity comedians with Funny or Die to gain his release, as well as intervention by diplomatic staff, elected representatives, and his attorneys, a judge finally “tried” Shezanne’s case, and he was convicted, fined, deported, and prohibited from ever returning to the UAE. The judge’s verdict cited statements contained in the false confession as the sole basis for convicting Shez of being a threat to national security.

Despite UAE Judge’s finding that the comedy video threatened the country’s national security, and despite their claims that they would take down the video, it remains available to view on YouTube, even in the UAE. 

Following Shezanne’s release, UAE Prime Minister His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in an interview with the BBC, admitted mistakes had been made in Shezanne’s case and suggested that the UAE would seek to fix those mistakes.

Shezanne and his family are now seeking a pardon and restitution from the UAE government for its unjust treatment, the financial devastation that resulted from Shezanne’s imprisonment, and the smear that still limits his travel and employment opportunities.


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