A former University of Minnesota student who spent the last nine months in a United Arab Emirates jail for creating a satirical video arrived home to the Twin Cities Thursday.
Shezanne Cassim, 29, of Woodbury, was accused of violating the country's cyber crimes law. He was arrested in Dubai in April after posting a 20-minute video on YouTube poking fun at the country's youth culture. The satire included actors using sandals and Twitter as weapons.
Cassim said he was not physically abused while in detention, but was given no access to information about his case. He maintains he broke no Emirati laws. Cassim said his case shows that the Emerati government is afraid of democracy.
"There was nothing illegal about the video, even under UAE law," he said in a brief appearance at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. "I was tried under a textbook kangaroo court, and I was convicted without any evidence."
United Arab Emirates authorities said the video damaged the country's reputation abroad and threatened national security.
Emirati authorities announced this week that they were releasing him after sentencing him to a year in prison in December.
He was released early after advocates from the U.S. pushed the country to count in his sentencing the nine months he already served, most of those in a maximum security Abu Dhabi prison as he awaited trial.
Cassim said that while he was in prison, authorities gave him little information about his case.
"I knew there was stuff going on in the media, but I didn't have access to actually what was going on," he said. "Even the prison guards had no idea. Whereas all this news taking place, and like my brother said, all I could hear was just crickets."
Cassim joked that the best thing about being free is being able to go to Burger King, and the only good thing to come from his imprisonment was that the Dubai police helped him beat his ice cream addiction.
Cassim moved to Dubai in 2006 and worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He studied political science at the University of Minnesota and graduated in 2006. He's a 2002 graduate of Woodbury High School.
U.S. Sens. Amy Kobuchar and Al Franken pressed for the UAE to release him.
"This decision is not just wonderful news for Shezanne, his family and his friends, it is simply the right thing to do," Klobuchar said in a statement Tuesday. "Jailing this young man for months for posting a harmless video made absolutely no sense, especially in a country that prides itself on being a tolerant and just nation. Shezanne's family never gave up on this fight, and having their son home safe is the best start to 2014 I can imagine."
Cassim's cause attracted national attention. Both the New York Times and CNN have run stories about him.
The fact that Cassim was imprisoned for a satirical video also struck a nerve with other amateur comedians.
Funny or Die, a comedy company founded in part by actor Will Ferrell, posted information about Cassim's situation to its website and social media channels, which have a following of 12 million.
Here's the video that got Cassim arrested: