Shezanne “Shez” Cassim returned home to Minnesota on Thursday after spending nine months in a United Arab Emirates prison for posting a satirical video on YouTube.
Speaking briefly in a terminal in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Cassim thanked his family, friends and members of the media for their support, crediting their advocacy for his release.
“I don’t have much to say right now apart from thank you,” he said Thursday. “If it wasn’t for your actions I would still be in prison.”
The 29-year-old University of Minnesota graduate moved to the UAE after college to pursue a career in the airlines business.
Cassim was detained last April and charged with violating a UAE “Cyber Crimes Law” and “defaming the UAE society’s image abroad” after posting a seemingly innocuous YouTube video lampooning the youth in Dubai earlier that year. After spending eight months in jail without a judgment, Cassim was found guilty in December and sentenced to a year in prison.
But early this week, Cassim’s family announced he had been released from prison and would be flying to Minnesota shortly.
Sporting long hair covering his eyes and appearing thin in a dark navy suit, Cassim looked markedly different than the well-circulated photo his family provided the press a few months ago.
Cassim said he wasn’t physically abused during his detainment in the UAE but that there was “nothing” in the maximum-security prison and that staff only allowed him limited contact with the outside world.
“I was basically in a cage for nine months,” Cassim said. “I knew there was stuff going on in the media but I didn’t have any access to what was actually going on. All I could hear were crickets,” he said.
Cassim also emphasized he had never committed a crime by posting a video on YouTube, neither by U.S. standards nor by UAE law.
“I think that there is this misconception that I broke the law. I want to say that I did nothing wrong — that there was nothing illegal about the video, even under UAE law,” he said.
Calling the guilty verdict “meaningless,” Cassim said the UAE only used him to send a message to its citizens about defying the government.
“My opinion is that due to the political situation there, they’re scared of democracy,” he said. “It was a warning message.”
Shortly thereafter, Cassim’s lawyer, Susan Burns, concluded the press conference, stating that Cassim would be happy to talk about his experience at a later time.
With his mother, father, sister and brother in tow, Cassim quickly exited the airport and headed home to Woodbury, Minn. He said he would not be returning to the UAE.