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Dubai's YouTube man to be set free this week
January 8, 2014, 9:05 am

A US citizen sentenced to a year in prison in the UAE for posting a parody video on YouTube that poked fun at young Emirati men who imitate US hip-hop culture will be released this week, it was reported.

Shezanne Cassim, 29, has been detained in the UAE since April last year after publishing the 20-minute "mockumentary" film.

In the video, which opens with a disclaimer stating it is fictional and does not intend to offend the people of the UAE, Emirati men described as "deadly gangsters" can be seen practising throwing sandals and wielding an agal, the cord used to keep in place traditional headscarves.

Cassim, an aviation business consultant, was charged with violating the Gulf nation's cyber crime law which makes acts deemed damaging to the country's reputation or national security punishable by jail time and heavy fines.

He was sentenced to jail by an Abu Dhabi court in December, and also fined AED10,000 ($2,723).

However, US media reports say he will be set free this week.

“We understand that Mr Cassim will be released in the next few days,” US State Department press officer Pooja Jhunjhunwala was quoted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as saying. “We continue to work closely with the UAE. authorities to ensure his quick release.”

He said American consular staffers planned to visit Cassim once more before he left the country.

His family and supporters, including US Senator Amy Klobuchar, welcomed the news.

In November, an Abu Dhabi court jailed a man for two years for tweeting about a political trial, highlighting the sensitivity of Gulf Arab states to political dissent, criticism of senior officials and to comments they regard as blasphemous, especially on social media.

Cassim posted the parody video online last year. The film, shot in Dubai's Al Satwa area, just a few miles away from the landmark Burj Khalifa skyscraper, remains available on YouTube.

Two Indians on trial alongside Cassim were given the same sentence, two Emirati defendants were sentenced to eight months in prison each and one Emirati was pardoned, according to activists.

A further three defendants were each given a one-year prison sentence in absentia and fined AED10,000.

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