Singaporean Amos Yee has been released from detention after a United States immigration appeals board upheld his application for asylum, citing his fear of persecution.
His lawyer, Ms Sandra Grossman, said on Tuesday that the US Board of Immigration Appeals had dismissed the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) appeal opposing an immigration judge's earlier decision to grant asylum to the 18-year-old.
"Amos Yee is now a free man!" he wrote in a Facebook post at about 7am Singapore time yesterday.
The blogger had left Singapore for Chicago last December, a day before he was to report for a medical examination ahead of enlistment into national service. He sought political asylum on arrival in the US.
The detention became prolonged when the DHS contested the immigration judge's March 24 decision to grant asylum to Mr Yee. The DHS argued that the judge made errors of fact and law, and that the Singapore Government had legitimately prosecuted him.
Mr Yee remained in detention for the duration of the legal proceedings on his asylum bid.
WHAT ASYLUM STATUS BRINGS
• The immediate legal right to live and work in the United States.
• A Social Security card with unrestricted right to work.
• A driving licence or state identification card.
• Government benefits: Welfare (Temporary Aid to Needy Families and Safety Net); Supplemental Security Income if disabled; Medicaid and Food Stamps, for seven years after the date the application is granted.
• Eligibility to apply for a green card (permanent residence) one year after receiving the grant of asylum.
• Eligibility to apply for citizenship four years after receiving a green card.
• A refugee travel document is required before leaving the United States for travel. • Returning to the country the asylum-seeker came from carries some risk of revocation of asylum status.
He made headlines in 2015 when he was charged in Singapore with engaging in hate speech against Christians in a video on YouTube, and for publishing an obscene image of the late former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. He was convicted and sentenced to four weeks in jail. Last year, he was charged again with hate speech, having deliberately posted comments online - in videos and blog posts - that were derogatory of Christianity and Islam. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six weeks in jail and fined $2,000.
In its written decision dated Sept 21, the three-member US board said it agreed with the immigration judge that Mr Yee's prosecution "was a pretext" to silence his political opinions.
It also agreed with the judge that "the cumulative harm in this case rose to the level of persecution", and this "entitles the applicant to a presumption of a well-founded fear that has not been rebutted".
Speaking to The Straits Times from Chicago, Mr Yee said he wanted to make more videos, expanding his horizons to include the US, and then move on to bigger projects.
Asked if he planned to study, he said: "Hell, no."
"The plan is to make more and more videos. I came here to escape the horrible anti-free speech laws in Singapore. Now, I can get back to work, get back to my life," he said. "I am thinking I will do the video thing and the Internet activism on Facebook and YouTube for as long as I am satisfied."
But he is not likely to be satisfied with just being a YouTuber, even a "really famous" one, he added.
"I also want to broaden my horizon in more collaborative and huge projects like film and video games."
He also wants to try his hand at a comedy show or a drama, he said. Asked how he planned to support himself, he said: "That is the big mystery."
"Fortunately, I don't have to pay rent," he said. "Theodore Gray, a famous scientist, has offered me a place." Mr Gray is a well-known science writer who co-founded the Web and cloud computing firm Wolfram Research.
Mr Yee's mother declined to comment.
His case will now be remanded to the Immigration Court in Chicago to allow the DHS the opportunity to complete or update any pending security investigations or examinations, Ms Grossman said in a statement. While a date has not been set for entry of the final order, it is likely to be soon, it added.
"The possibility also remains for a DHS appeal, though this is unlikely, given the board's unambiguous decision," the statement said.