Singapore diplomat rebuts Economist article on Amos Yee

Singapore's High Commissioner in London has rebutted an article by a British publication, saying that blogger Amos Yee was prosecuted for making vicious statements about Christians and Muslims, and not for political dissent.

Ms Foo Chi Hsia said in a letter to The Economist that the article No Place For The Crass was wrong in implying that Yee was charged and jailed in Singapore for criticising the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Citing examples of Yee's online posts, she said: "That is not true. In 2015, Mr Yee insulted Christians, saying Jesus Christ was 'power hungry and malicious' and 'full of bull'.

"Last year, he said: 'The Islamics seem to have lots of sand in their vaginas… But don't mind them, they do after all follow a sky wizard and a paedophile prophet. What in the world is a 'moderate Muslim'? A f*****g hypocrite, that's what!'"

She added: "The Economist may agree with the American judge that such bigotry is free speech. But Singapore does not countenance hate speech, because we have learnt from bitter experience how fragile our racial and religious harmony is. Several people have been prosecuted for engaging in such hate speech."

Yee was charged in 2015 for engaging in hate speech against Christians in a video he posted on YouTube, and for publishing an obscene image. He was convicted and given a four-week jail sentence.

Last year, he was charged again for hate speech against Muslims and Christians. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment and a $2,000 fine.

In December last year, he sought asylum in the United States, and succeeded last month.

A Chicago immigration judge, in granting the 18-year-old asylum, had said in a 13-page judgment that he was persecuted for his political opinion.

The Economist suggested this was unusual, as immigration judges often granted asylum with a "simple, spoken ruling".

It described Yee's online posts as "a profanity-laced video... calling Lee 'a horrible person', an 'awful leader' and a 'dictator'", and said Yee had mocked Christianity for only about 30 seconds in the 519-second video.

The weekly publication also noted a response by the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore that had said the US judge's findings were "baseless and unwarranted".

Citing it, The Economist said: "Saying such things about a ruling of a Singaporean court, ironically, could put the speaker at risk of prosecution for contempt."

In her letter, Ms Foo said that contrary to the suggestion, Singapore's laws on contempt do not prevent fair criticism of court judgments.

She said that The Economist article itself demonstrates this.

"Singapore's court judgments, including Mr Yee's case, are reasoned and published, and can stand scrutiny by anyone, including The Economist," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore diplomat rebuts Economist article on Amos Yee'. Print Edition | Subscribe