Amos Yee prosecuted for hate speech, not political dissent: Singapore to The Economist

Amos Yee was charged and convicted for engaging in hate speech against Christians in 2015. In 2016, he was charged again for hate speech, this time against Muslims and Christians. PHOTO: ST FILE

Blogger Amos Yee was prosecuted for making vicious statements about Christians and Muslims, and not for political dissent as The Economist implied, said the High Commissioner for Singapore in London, Ms Foo Chi Hsia.

She was responding to an article published in the newspaper, "No place for the crass", on April 1, about Yee's recent successful application for asylum in the United States.

A Chicago immigration judge had granted Yee asylum after ruling in a 13-page decision that Yee was persecuted for his political opinion when he was charged in Singapore in 2015 and 2016.

The US Department of Homeland Security had opposed Yee's asylum application, on the basis that Yee had been legitimately prosecuted.

The Economist article, commenting on the episode said: "Immigration judges often grant asylum with a simple, spoken ruling. This one explained himself over 13 pages."

It also suggested, quoting the judge, that the public outrage over the 18-year-old's comments had mostly focused on his criticism of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The article described Yee's online posts as "a profanity-laced video...calling Lee 'a horrible person', an 'awful leader' and a 'dictator'.

It added that Yee had only mocked Christianity in "small part", around 30 seconds, of the 519-seconds long video.

Ms Foo, in a letter published in The Economist on April 12, said these assertions were not true, adding that Yee had disparaged Christians and Muslims in his online posts.

Citing examples, she said: "In 2015, Mr Yee insulted Christians, saying Jesus Christ was 'power hungry and malicious' and 'full of bull'.

In 2016, 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 fucking hypocrite, that's what!'"

"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," she added.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, in a statement last month, had said it is the prerogative of the United States to take in people who engage in hate speech.

The US, said the MHA, adopts a different standard from Singapore towards hate speech. "It allows some 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."

The Economist article had called the MHA statement a "huffy response".

The Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, citing the US judge's ruling, said last month that its members were "outraged" by the judge's "baseless and unwarranted" findings.

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

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

She added 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.

Yee was charged and convicted for engaging in hate speech against Christians in 2015.

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.

In 2016, Yee was charged again for hate speech, this time against Muslims and Christians.

He pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to six weeks imprisonment and a fine of $2,000.

Both times, he was represented by counsel.

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