American detained without trial in UAE

A 29-year-old American is imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates over a comedy video posted on YouTube.

Shezanne "Shez" Cassim, who had been working in Dubai, was detained on April 7 and more than seven months later there is still no sign of a date being fixed for his trial. Several others, including two Emiratis, are also in jail in connection with the video.

Authorities in the UAE say the film threatens national security as well as infringing local "cybercrime" laws.

The 19-minute video (above) is a send-up of martial arts films. It shows an imaginary training school in Dubai where initiates learn a peculiarly Emirati form of combat, throwing sandals, lashing out with an igal (the coiled rope that holds a traditional headdress in place), and using what is described as the most effective weapon of all – a mobile phone to call friends for support.

The video includes a "graduation" ceremony where a newly-qualified combatant, instead of receiving the traditional martial arts black belt, is given a shirt bearing the name of Lionel Messi, the Argentinian footballer. (The joke, apparently, is that lots of people in the UAE already wear these shirts.)

A note at the start of the video explains it is fictional and it's hard to see how any Emirati official could have taken it seriously. Even so, a judge involved in the case has reportedly turned down three requests from Cassim for bail. The judge has also, rather belatedly, asked for a transcript of the dialogue, which is in English.

The case brings to mind another "martial arts" video from the UAE a few years back which was definitely not a joke. That video showed Sheikh Issa bin Zayed Al Nayhan, brother of Abu Dhabi's ruler, torturing Mohammed Shah Poor (an Afghan business associate of Sheikh Issa) with assistance from men in uniform.

In the video, Sheikh Issa, together with members of the Emirates police:

  • Fired bullets from an automatic rifle around Mr Poor;

  • Used an electric cattle prod against Mr Poor's testicles and inserted it into his anus;

  • Poured lighter fluid on Mr Poor's testicles and set them on fire;

  • Pulled down the pants of Mr Poor and repeatedly struck him with a protruding nail attached to a wooden board. At one point, Sheikh [Issa] placed the nail next to Mr Poor's buttocks and banged it through the flesh;

  • Whipped Mr Poor over all his body including his face;

  • Poured a large container of salt on to Mr Poor's wounds which were still bleeding;

  • Positioned Mr Poor on the desert sand and then drove over him repeatedly in a 4x4 vehicle.

Sheikh Issa was eventually put on trial for torture – and acquitted. The court apparently accepted his explanation that he had been drugged by two extortionists and was therefore "unaware of his actions".

Emirati justice is truly remarkable.
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Wednesday, 27 November 2013