DUBAI: An American man detained for months in the United Arab Emirates and seven co-defendants were fined and sentenced to jail Monday after being convicted in connection to a satirical video about youth culture in Dubai.
The case, which has drawn the attention of international human rights advocates, centers around a mockumentary uploaded to the Internet. Officials charged that the film spoofing would-be Dubai "gangstas" ran afoul of a 2012 cybercrimes law that tightened penalties for challenging authorities, according to supporters of one of the filmmakers, Shezanne Cassim.
Cassim, 29, is a U.S. citizen from Woodbury, Minn., who was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Dubai for work after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006. He became the public face of the defendants after his family launched an effort to publicize his months-long incarceration following his arrest in April.
He was sentenced Monday to a year in prison followed by deportation and a 10,000 dirham ($2,725) fine, according to family spokeswoman Jennifer Gore.
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 official 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 state-owned newspaper The National. A third brother was pardoned.
The paper said the defendants had been accused of "defaming the UAE society's image abroad."
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.
Gulf Arab authorities have been cracking down on social media use over the past two years, with dozens of people arrested across the region for Twitter posts deemed offensive to leaders or for social media campaigns urging more political openness.
The video, called "Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa Gs," is set in the Satwa district of Dubai. It is a documentary style clip that pokes fun at Dubai youth who style themselves "gangstas" but are not particularly thuggish, and shows fictional "combat" training that includes throwing a sandal and using a mobile phone to call for help.
It opens with text saying the video is fictional and is not meant to offend.