United Arab Emirates questioned on rights over satirical film arrests

Dec. 5, 2013 at 8:11 PM
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Human rights activists say the arrest of five men for a satirical film shows the United Arab Emirates' image as progressive is "a public relations artifice."

Shezanne Cassim, 29, of the United States and four others are accused of endangering public order when they released the 20-minute mockumentary in which a martial arts teacher in Dubai provides silly combat instructions to students -- for example, teaching them to throw shoes, or use social media to call for help -- the New York Times reported Thursday.

The filmmakers said the project -- posted online in October 2012 -- was intended to make fun of young Emiratis. Police arrested the five in April, after thousands of online visitors viewed the film, the Times said.

The case -- which recently received news coverage after a push by Cassim's family -- poses an image problem for the UAE, which has taken extensive steps to establish a reputation in the world as an international cultural center, the newspaper said.

Dubai last week was selected as host city for the 2020 World Expo, and the 2013 Dubai International Film Festival is scheduled to begin Friday, attracting high profile celebrities from the film industry.

UAE Prime Minister Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum said in a Twitter post the Expo will "breathe new life into the ancient role of the Middle East as a melting pot for cultures and creativity."

Nicholas McGeehan of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch told the Times the country's "business model relies on it being able to project an image of progressiveness and stability, and hosting expos and film festivals all fits into this."

"But cases likes this seriously undermine that image and reveal it to be nothing more than a public relations artifice," McGeehan said.

Emirati officials did not respond to the newspaper's requests for comment.

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