WOODBURY, Minn. (KMSP) - It's been more than a year since a Woodbury, Minn. man returned home from being locked up abroad. But things aren't getting any easier for him back in the U.S. after he was arrested for making a YouTube video parodying youth culture in Dubai.
Putting the pieces back together for Shez Cassim has been much easier said than done. His conviction, considered by many as totally ridiculous, has made life tough. But the University of Minnesota graduate now hopes a campaign intended to pressure his former jailers will lead to a pardon.
"The wrongful conviction is like a ball and a chain on my foot,” Cassim said.
The weight of injustice for Cassim can be felt with every step, a burden that first cost him 9 months of his life. And now, he worries about his future as well.
"Every country makes mistakes but they need to fix this mistake,” he said.
The mistake all started with a joke in a place where being funny can be dangerous. The United Arab Emirates has a history laced with odd arrests, but Cassim's arrest in 2013 for a YouTube parody video quickly became famous.
Imprisoned for months without trial, he wondered if he'd ever get out -- "There were definitely elements of mental torture that I went through for those nine months."
Eventually he was convicted, sentenced and released, and returned home to Woodbury. But now he says those 9 months of pain are making it hard to get a job, and it’s stopping him from moving on with his life.
"To have my name cleared and the conviction stricken from the record would be something that would really help,” he said.
Starting Monday, Cassim and his supporters plan to launch the "Pardon Shez" campaign. Their hope is a combination of emails, letters and other outreach will generate enough pressure that the government of the UAE will offer a pardon.
It’s a result that Cassim says will allow him to move forward and reclaim the life that for now seems out of reach. The "Pardon Shez" campaign will be holding a rally Monday at the Eagle Valley Golf Course in Woodbury.
So far, he has not received any formal help from the U.S. government. But it is worth noting that the prime minister of the UAE has since said mistakes were made in the handling of his case.