Amos Yee Granted Asylum
After three months of being detained, teen blogger Amos Yee has finally been granted asylum in the United States — and Singaporeans can’t help but feel oh-so-happy.
While his supporters are glad that his wish has been granted, many other Singaporeans are just happy he’s no longer in Singapore.
Beneath the scores of critiques that Mr Yee has elicited since he first made the headlines in 2015, the 18-year-old has his supporters, who must be really happy at the verdict.
Some are public figures who went out of their way to offer him aid.
One of Amos Yee’s two witnesses, Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam, leader of the opposition Reform Party, was found to be “credible” by the judge.
Mr Jeyaretnam had given a statement in support of Mr Yee’s application for asylum two months ago.
The opposition party leader explained why it is important to understand the nature of the persecution that Mr Yee faces, had he returned to Singapore.
In a statement posted on his website, Mr Jeyaretnam revealed that he attended Mr Yee’s first court session; he also petitioned his contacts at Amnesty International to have him recognised as a prisoner of conscience (PoC). Amnesty International agreed that Mr Yee met the requirements and declared him to be a PoC.
Mr Jeyaretnam even compared Mr Yee’s case to that of his father, JB Jeyaretnam, who was a lawyer and leader of the Workers’ Party from 1971 to 2001.
He claimed that his family history gives him the authority to state that the persecution of Mr Yee would not be a one-time or two-time occurrence, as his father had been expelled from Parliament after being tried and convicted,
a conviction that the UK Privy Council, then Singapore’s highest court found to be a previous miscarriage of justice. However, the Privy Council were powerless to reverse the conviction that kept JBJ out of politics for five years.
The Government responded by ending appeals to the Privy Council.
Mr Jeyaretnam added that Amos Yee’s situation appears bleaker than before (during JB Jeyaretnam’s time) as Singapore is more tightly controlled:
Amos’ life will in effect be over before it begins.
The Helping Hand
US-based Singaporean activist Melissa Chen’s efforts to help Amos Yee have also been widely recognised.
Ms Chen took to Facebook on Friday, to speak about Amos Yee’s successful asylum bid, praising the US:
In case you can’t see the full post, here are some snippets:
It’s public now: Amos Yee has been granted asylum in the United States. This is a decision that strengthens my love for this country and what it truly stands for.
Many have asked why I bothered in the first place. Obviously I think his imprisonment in Singapore was unjust, and that he deserves a fresh start to live the rest of his life without the fear of being punished by the full force of the state for mere thoughtcrimes. Amos is in many ways a lot braver than I am. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at times afraid of being vocal about his case, simply because of the sheer amount of vitriol and even threats that came with being tried in the court of public opinion by nothing more than “guilt by association.”
Amos is free now, but it doesn’t stop here. I still want to make sure he settles in and adapts to life in America. There are still more struggles ahead for him personally.
While neither Mr Yee nor his mother Mary Toh have posted updates on Facebook yet, the teen blogger has already received congratulatory messages on social media.
Some offered him their heartfelt congratulations.
However, some pointed out that Amos would not necessarily have a better life in the US:
We can also safely say that there are many Singaporeans who aren’t fans of his, and they are glad to see the back of Amos Yee:
Facebook user Darren Tan points out that it might’ve been Mr Yee’s bad luck for being born in the wrong country — he offers Mr Yee his well wishes:
Amid the joy that abounds, let’s take a closer look at the verdict.
According to Channel NewsAsia, immigration judge Samuel Cole granted Amos Yee asylum after concluding that Singapore’s government “persecuted Yee on account of his political opinion”.
The decision made by the judge, according to a media update on Grossman Law’s website, read:
Yee has met the 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 Cole’s 13-page opinion on Friday (March 24) also stated the following:
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.
The judge added that Amos Yee’s “prosecution, detention and general maltreatment at the hands of the Singapore authorities constitute persecution on account of Yee’s political opinions”, and he also called him a “young political dissident”.
Amos Yee was charged in Singapore in 2015 and 2016 over separate videos he posted on YouTube criticising Christians and Muslims, as well as late Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew. He also posted a crude cartoon of Mr Lee and late former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
With regards to the video Amos Yee created in 2015, Judge Cole stated that the video was solely about Mr Lee and Singapore, while comments on religion were only used to make a point about Amos Yee’s dismal opinion of Mr Lee:
In fact, religion took up only about 30 seconds of the video’s 8 and a half minute content.
The MHA Statement
Nevertheless, accepting Amos Yee’s asylum, the US is effectively endorsing what the young blogger stands for, and saying that Singapore shouldn’t have prosecuted him — this puts Singapore in a bad light.
In Singapore, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) released a statement in response to the news, referring to Amos Yee’s video as “hate speech”, reported The Straits Times.
Here’s part of the statement:
Yee had engaged in hate speech against Christians and Muslims.
The US adopts a different standard, and allows some such hate speech under the rubric of freedom of speech.
The US for example, in the name of freedom of speech, allows the during of the Quran.
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.
The US Department of Homeland Security had opposed Yee’s asylum application, on the basis that Yee had been legitimately prosecuted.
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.
While Amos Yee has been granted asylum, the decision isn’t final.
Due to the separation of powers enshrined in the US Constitution, where the executive branch can check the judicial branch, the Department of Homeland Security can still file an appeal against the decision.
According to Channel NewsAsia, the DHS has 30 days (till Apr 24) to file the appeal, if any.
In the event of a failed appeal, the decision becomes final; Grossman Law added that it has contacted the Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Chicago to secure Amos Yee’s release from prison.
Amos Yee had taken to Facebook to criticise US President Donald Trump, read our story on Amos Yee taking on Mr Trump — but so it seems things have been going his way, as Mr Trump has many more issues to worry about, for example how his attempted repeal of Obamacare failed.
A New Chapter
The hard work of his advocates have paid off — if Amos Yee stays in the US, we have maybe 60 more years of his ranting to look forward to.
In the meantime, those who aren’t bored of seeing Amos Yee’s name in the headlines await eagerly to see if Amos Yee’s asylum grant becomes final.
We wish him all the best.
Featured image from Askideas