When Shez Cassim returned to Minnesota after spending 9 months in a United Arab Emirates prison for a parody YouTube video, he was ready to move forward. While the trauma is fading, Cassim has discovered his shackles are still intact.
The Woodbury, Minn. native and University of Minnesota graduate was jailed for the parody video posted on YouTube. The video, "Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa Gs," pokes fun of young men in Dubai's upscale suburb of Satwa. It begins with a disclaimer clearly stating no offense was intended.
"Making YouTube videos there is not unusual. It's just as common as it is here, as normal as it is here. What is unusual is how the UAE authorities reacted and the lack of due process, the complete lack of due process in how I was convicted," he said.
That lack of due process and its heavy toll is why Cassim is speaking out about what he calls a wrongful conviction. The wrong starts with Cassim's arrest. He was held 5 months without a charge.
"The hardest part is being held, not knowing why you're being hard. Not knowing what the charges are. Not knowing what the evidence against you is. Not being able to meet your lawyer and defend yourself. Not knowing how long you're going to be there," he said.
During that time, all bail requests were rejected without reason. When he was finally convicted and sentenced, he had no chance to appeal.
"I feel terrible for my family for what they went through. I can't imagine now knowing whether a family member if going to be in prison for several years or a day," he said.
Back in Minnesota, he's seeking a pardon and restitution. Cassim wrote a letter to the UAE President asking for compensation to help his parents who spent their retirement savings to get him a lawyer he never was allowed to see. He also asked for a pardon to help explain to potential employers where he's been for nearly two years.
Most of all, Cassim wants the UAE President to right the wrong that still has him imprisoned in a way, and his family, too.
"Without their help, I believe I would still be there."