Singapore teen blogger Amos Yee, 18, who was jailed twice in Singapore for posting political and religious criticism online, has been granted asylum in the United States.
Yee has been detained in the US since he arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in December.
He came into the country on a tourist visa but truthfully told immigration officials he was actually seeking refuge.
Following Friday’s ruling, Yee is expected to be released shortly.
Judge Samuel Cole released a 13-page decision, which said Mr Yee faced persecution in Singapore for his political opinions.
“Yee has met his burden of showing that he suffered past persecution on account of his political opinion and has a well-founded fear of future persecution in Singapore,” Judge Coel ruled. “Accordingly, this court grants his application for asylum.”
In his 13-page opinion, Judge Samuel Cole said, Yee was described as a “young political dissident.” “The evidence presented at the hearing demonstrates Singapore’s prosecution of Yee was a pretext to silence his political opinions critical of the Singapore government,” Cole wrote.
Cole’s ruling went against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which had fought against Yee’s asylum request, arguing that the Singaporean government had legitimate reasons to arrest Yee. Yee has been jailed twice in Singapore for posting critical comments about Singapore’s former prime minister, and about Christianity and Islam online, and his situation has been a driving force in the debate over free speech and censorship in the Southeast Asian city-state.
Cole said testimony during Yee’s hearing showed that while the Singapore government’s stated reason for punishing him involved religion, “its real purpose was to stifle Yee’s political speech.” He said Yee’s prison sentence was “unusually long and harsh” especially for his age.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch applauded the asylum decision and expressed hope the decision would not be appealed.
“Singapore excels at creating a pressure cooker environment for dissidents and free thinkers who dare challenge the political, economic and social diktats from the ruling People’s Action Party. It’s clear the Singapore government saw Amos Yee as the proverbial nail sticking up that had to be hammered down,” said a statement from Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.
Yee’s attorney Sandra Grossman said her client was elated with the news.
“He’s very excited to begin new life in the United States,” Grossman said.
Amos Yee is not the only one celebrating his US asylum win – many Singaporeans are pleased as well.
The teenage critic is one of Singapore’s most controversial figures, where he is viewed with exasperation but also a measure of sympathy. Singapore is known for its strict rules on free speech, especially when it comes to race and religion – rules which the US judge said have been used by the authorities to constrain dissent.
Following Mr Yee’s explosive remarks about Singapore’s late leader Lee Kuan Yew and Christianity, Mr Yee had continued to fall foul of the law by breaching bail conditions and making further critical comments about religion.
Even by leaving Singapore he has committed an offense, as he is avoiding mandatory military conscription.
Many Singaporeans empathize with Amos, who has clearly struggled with the country’s restrictions. “Congratulations Amos. He can now lead the free life he wants in the free world. It’s just his bad luck that he was born in Singapore,” said another commenter on Facebook.
Mr Yee’s lawyer, Sandra Grossman, said he could be released as early as Monday.
In statement, Ms Grossman applauded the judge’s decision and said, “The right to free speech is sacred, even when such speech is considered offensive.”
In September 2016, Yee was given a six-week prison sentence in Singapore after being found guilty of “wounding religious feelings” because he had posted a video critical of Christianity and Islam.
He was also jailed by a Singapore court for four weeks in 2015, for criticizing Christians and for posting a video about the country’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
His video, posted on YouTube days after Lee Kuan Yew’s death, compared the widely-respected founding father of Singapore to Jesus Christ.
Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) stated, “The US adopts a different standard, and allows such hate speech under the rubric of freedom of speech. The US for example, in the name of freedom of speech, allows the burning of the Quran,” noted MHA.
“Singapore takes a very different approach. Anyone who engages in hate speech or attempts to burn the Quran, Bible, or any religious text in Singapore, will be arrested and charged.”
MHA also pointed out that the US Department of Homeland Security had opposed Yee’s asylum application on the basis that Yee had been legitimately prosecuted.
The Department of Homeland Security has 30 days (until Apr 24) to file an appeal.
25 Mar 2017 – Singapore MHA’s Comments on Amos Yee’s US Asylum Application
1. In 2015, Amos Yee was charged for engaging in hate speech against Christians.
2. He had said “Christians … are … power hungry and malicious but deceive others into thinking that they are compassionate and kind. Their impact and legacy will ultimately not last as more and more people find out that they are full of bull….. Similar to the Christian knowledge of the bible, and the work of a multitude of a priests.”
3. He was convicted on the charge. He was also convicted on another charge for publishing an obscene image. He was sentenced to a total of four weeks imprisonment for these charges.
4. In 2016, Yee was charged again for hate speech, this time against Muslims and Christians.
5. He had said “the Islamics seem to have lots of sand in their vaginas too…. But don’t mind them, they do after all follow a sky wizard and a pedophile prophet. What in the world is a ‘moderate muslim’? A f*****g hypocrite that’s what!……. With all due respect, Christians, you can shove that faith up your ass. Faith! Faith! I’d be damned at this retardation of humanity. F**k you, Christian shits”
6. He pleaded guilty to the charges, and was sentenced to six weeks imprisonment and a fine of $2000.
7. He was represented by counsel in both the 2015 and 2016 proceedings.
8. Yee had engaged in hate speech against Christians and Muslims.
9. The US adopts a different standard, and allows some such hate speech under the rubric of freedom of speech.
10. The US for example, in the name of freedom of speech, allows the burning of the Quran .
11. Singapore takes a very different approach. Anyone who engages in hate speech or attempts to burn the Quran, Bible, or any religious text in Singapore, will be arrested and charged.
12. The US Department of Homeland Security had opposed Yee’s asylum application, on the basis that Yee had been legitimately prosecuted.
13. It is the prerogative of the US to take in such people who engage in hate speech. There are many more such people, around the world, who deliberately engage in hate speech, and who may be prosecuted. Some of them, will no doubt take note of the US approach, and consider applying for asylum in the US.