An 18-year-old blogger from Singapore who was jailed twice for voicing out his opinion online has been officially granted asylum in the United States.
U.S. border control officers have initially stopped Amos Yee from entering the country upon the discovery that he was trying to seek asylum after being jailed in Singapore for his political opinions, SCMP reports.
According to his American pro-bono lawyer, Sandra Grossman, Yee has been detained in Chicago since December 16 but is now eligible for release following the decision.
“On March 24, 2017, the Honorable Immigration Judge Samuel B. Cole granted Amos Yee’s asylum application,” Grossman said in a statement.
“Judge Cole concluded that the Singapore government persecuted Yee on account of his political opinion and that Yee is deserving of asylum as a matter of discretion.”
Yee’s lawyer further lauded the judge’s decision, saying, “The right to free speech is sacred, even when such speech is considered offensive. The decision timely underscores the vital need for an independent judiciary in a functioning democracy.”
“It further affirms our country’s leadership in defending the basic human right of all people to freely express themselves.”
Yee was jailed for 53 days in 2015 and three weeks in the following for his expletive-laden video that insulted both the Catholic religion the country’s late founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. He called Lee a “horrible person”, an “awful leader” and “a dictator but managed to fool most of the world to think he was democratic”.
Yee said he sought asylum in the U.S. because he felt the punishment he was given was aimed to silence his views against the People’s Action Party, the current ruling party in Singapore.
While some government officials have rebuffed Yee’s claims, noting that he was convicted for breaking the law, opposition politicians have aired their support.
“I think this is a major embarrassment for the government, that all along claimed Amos’ persecution was not political,” opposition politician Kenneth Jeyaretnam said. Jeyaretnam also gave testimony which supported Yee’s asylum.
He further stated that the U.S. judge’s decision “may create waves in Singapore.”
“It may show Singaporeans that there’s nothing to be afraid about. The Singapore government is a paper tiger. We don’t have to swallow the brainwashing that is constantly put out,” he explained.
Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson also commended the decision:
“There was never any doubt that Amos Yee is the quintessential political dissident, escaping from the sort of a pressure cooker environment that city-state Singapore excels in devising for dissidents who challenge its prerogatives.
“It’s clear the Singapore government saw Amos Yee as the proverbial nail sticking up that had to be hammered down.”
In response to the approval of Yee’s asylum request, the Ministry of Home Affairs in Singapore released a statement which included Yee’s remarks against religious groups, noting that Yee had pleaded guilty to the charges held against him.
“Yee had engaged in hate speech against Christians and Muslims,” the statement explained. “The US adopts a different standard and allows such hate speech under the rubric of freedom of speech.”
“It is the prerogative of the US to take in such people who engage in hate speech. There are much 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.”
In Singapore, imposing certain restrictions on the freedom of speech has been long enforced by the ruling party, saying that such measures are “necessary in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.”