American business consultant jailed in UAE for video said to threaten Emirati national security

An undated photo of Shezanne Cassim, who was jailed on Monday under cyber crime laws in the United Arab Emirates, his family said. Shervon Cassim

An American living in the United Arab Emirates was sentenced to a year in jail on Monday after a court ruled that a satirical video he posted on YouTube threatened national security, his family said.

The family of 29-year-old Shezanne Cassim said they were "utterly horrified" and "inconsolable" after he was given a one-year prison sentence and fined 10,000 U.A.E. dirhams (about $2,700).

Cassim was detained in April under strict new cyber crime laws after posting the video entitled "Satwa Combat School," a parody about affluent Dubai teenagers trying to adopt tough-guy personas.

His case has sparked the #freeshez campaign. This has been backed by among others the website Funny Or Die, which is co-founded by "Anchorman" star Will Ferrell.

Following the sentencing, his brother Shervon Cassim told NBC News: "We are utterly horrified, and hurt, and outraged by this.

"We do not see how he could have been found guilty of any kind of crime by posting this video. Our mother is inconsolable. She is very upset."

Cassim was convicted under federal cyber crimes law of endangering the U.A.E.’s national security, family spokeswoman Jennifer Gore said.

Both Gore and Cassim said they have had "no explanation" from the Emirati government of why the video was a threat to national security.

They said there is no avenue for appeal but have vowed not to give up hope.

The U.A.E. government did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for a response.

Three weeks before his arrest, Cassim got a job as a business consultant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Dubai, where he moved after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006. The international business consultancy would not comment on Cassim's case.

Cassim, who had worked for a subsidiary Emirates Airlines, was born in Sri Lanka but grew up living for stretches in the U.A.E. and Woodbury, Minn.

Gore said that on being arrested Cassim offered to immediately delete the video, only to be laughed at by police who asked, mockingly: "How can you take down the video? YouTube is a company in America." He was then asked to sign a statement in Arabic, which he does not understand, Gore said.

He was held for almost five months without being charged and then transferred to a maximum-security prison in the middle of the desert, according to Gore.

She added that his sentencing has been postponed five times and he has never been allowed to meet a lawyer.

His brother, who last spoke to Cassim on Sunday, the day before the sentencing, said that he has not been physically abused during his detention, but he has lost a lot of weight.

"He just wants to come out, he is very frustrated," he said. "He is going stir-crazy in his prison cell. It is hard for us to give him anything to pass the time, like books or a pen and paper. Right now he has almost nothing."

The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi said Monday that consular personnel were at the court hearing.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf discussed Cassim during a press briefing last week.

“We, both here at the Department of State and at the U.S. mission in the U.A.E., are troubled by the prolonged incarceration of him,” she told reporters. 

Harf added that diplomatic personnel have regularly visited Cassim.

“We’ve also, on the ground, engaged with U.A.E counterparts to urge a fair and expedient trial and judgment,” she said.