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UAE court not amused by satire of Dubai youth, sentences American to year in jail

DUBAI--A court in the United Arab Emirates sentenced eight people including an American to up to a year in prison Monday after being convicted in connection to a satirical video about youth culture in Dubai.

The video they produced and uploaded to the Internet was a spoof documentary of would-be “gangsta” youth in the Gulf Arab city-state. The state-owned daily The National said they were accused of “defaming the image of United Arab Emirates society abroad.” Supporters of the defendants reported that they were charged under a 2012 cybercrimes law that tightened penalties for challenging authorities.

Shezanne Cassim, a 29-year-old U.S. citizen from Woodbury, Minn., became the public face of the defendants after his family launched an effort to publicize his months-long incarceration following his arrest in April.

Cassim, who was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Dubai for work after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006, was sentenced Monday to a year in prison followed by deportation and received a 10,000 dirham (US$2,725) fine, according to family spokeswoman Jennifer Gore.

Cassim's brother, Shervon, called the ruling “painful and unfair.”

“Shez is coming up on nine months incarceration for making a parody. This isn't justice,” he said in a statement.

American consular officials have been following the case closely and attended Monday's hearing at the State Security Court in the federal capital, Abu Dhabi.

The U.S. Embassy had no immediate comment following the verdict. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf last week said American officials were troubled by Cassim's “prolonged incarceration” and called for “a fair and expedient trial and judgment.”

Two Indian defendants received similar sentences, while two Emirati brothers were sentenced to eight months behind bars and received 5,000 dirham fines, according to The National. A third brother was pardoned.

Three other defendants, a Canadian, Briton and an American, were convicted and sentenced in absentia to the penalties given to their other foreigners. They have never been detained by authorities and so are unlikely to serve their sentences.

The paper identified the defendants only by their initials, which is common in the Emirati media.

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