Statement in Support of Amos Yee’s Application for Asylum in The US
I sent this statement to Amos’s mother and lawyer to support his application for asylum in the US:
Singapore teenager Amos Yee will shortly appear in court in America to begin the process of seeking asylum. As the leader of one of Singapore’s small opposition parties, as an advocate and as a father, I urge the United States of America to consider his application favourably. If practical, I hope the process can be expedited due to the time that Amos has already spent incarcerated as a child, in his home country.
I am writing this because it is important to understand the true nature of the persecution that Amos Yee faces and would face if returned to his home country and to understand what has led him to seek asylum in the US.
The government of Singapore began persecuting and harassing Amos Yee when he was sixteen years old and therefore a child. Children are afforded particular rights under Article 13 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)to which Singapore has acceded as well as under the fundamental principles of the UNCRC that recognises children as needing special protection and specifies that they should only be detained “as a measure of last resort”.
What was the nature of Amos Yee’s crime? Was he a dangerous criminal or a violent thug or was there an imminent fear that he was radicalised and would commit a terrorist act? No. His “crime” was to load a video onto his blog that criticised and mocked the recently deceased former strong man of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. His mistake was to do this within days of the funeral when the nation was engaged in outpourings of grief and the Government was using the state media monopoly to create a hagiography. In law one cannot defame a dead person. Therefore Amos was prosecuted for wounding religious feelings and for obscenity after uploading a crude line drawing of Mrs Thatcher and LKY seemingly engaged in a wheelbarrow race.
The persecution of Amos Yee violates many of his rights. His rights to freedom of expression, his rights as a child, the universally held right to no detention without trial. There is no robust tradition of pro-bono legal aid in Singapore and no state provision of a lawyer if you cannot afford your own. The only exception is in death penalty cases. Amos negotiated most of his second round of charges with no legal counsel whatsoever.
During the period of his first incarceration whilst awaiting trial it was decided that Amos may have a mental disorder and he was committed to a state mental hospital for evaluation for two weeks. For several days he was tied hand and foot to a bed in a ward full of severely disturbed and adult inmates. Again this was a denial of his rights as a child.
I attended the first court session in person and, far from being accorded special measures and protections due to his status as a child, Amos was brought to court shackled and in leg restraints. He later complained these badly chafed his skin. This was a degrading, cruel and unnecessarily painful treatment. The judge presiding over his final hearing made clear that he held the UNCRC in contempt when he said that the words of Amos Yee were those of an adult and that it would be wrong to downplay his actions by focusing on his young age.
Before he was detained and on his way to his first pre-trial conference an unknown adult male hid in waiting then leapt out and punched Amos in
the face on the steps of the court. The authorities did nothing to prevent it. Though the perpetrator was later jailed he received a much shorter sentence
for his violent act than Amos received. A visibly bruised and shocked boy had to
continue to court without any assistance and a leading state media figure opined that she got vicarious pleasure from seeing a child get slapped.
His trial was a foregone conclusion and he was found guilty on all the charges, the charge of offending members of the Lee family by mocking LKY was dropped. The prosecution argued that Amos was likely to make more critical posts and needed to be pre-emptively detained for an extended period by being sent to “reformative training” and the judge was inclined to agree. For those of you unfamiliar with the Singapore penal system, this could have seen Amos being sent to a harsh military-style prison for up to three years. Normally only drug dealers, violent and sex offenders are sent for reformative training. Amos could also have faced Singapore’s barbaric system of corporal punishment once he was subject to the reformative training regime.
It was clear to me that Amos met the requirements of a prisoner of conscience (PoC) for Amnesty International and I petitioned my contacts there to have him recognised as soon as possible. His mother was certain that Amos would not cope with further jail time, particularly military jail, and we were concerned that he would find himself incarcerated again in an adult mental ward. Fortunately Amnesty International agreed and declared Amos Yee to be a PoC.
This action and swift and determined efforts by NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and United Nations to publicise the injustice of Amos’ treatment saw our
government backing down for fear of an International scandal. Amos was instead
sentenced to four weeks jail, which had already been served during his time on remand.
After his release, Amos continued to express his teenage opinions online. He was charged with wounding religious feelings again, in this case those of Muslims as well as Christians. He was tried and sentenced to six weeks jail and a fine of $2000. Singapore law disqualifies any person who has been fined in excess of $2000 or more from exercising their right to stand for election for five years and this system has been used to prevent many a political activist or potential dissenting voice from having a platform.
Before his second conviction Amos was assaulted for a second time by a “random stranger”. Amos also alleges that he was assaulted while in prison and he was until he fled subjected to continued surveillance and monitoring.
My own family history allows me to state with some confidence that the persecution of Amos Yee will not be a one or two time event. Our government is treading a well-worn path, one that saw my own father, J B Jeyaretnam (JBJ), being expelled from Parliament after being tried and convicted at the behest of Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), a conviction that the UK Privy Council, then Singapore’s highest court, found to be a grievous miscarriage of justice. However the Privy Council were powerless to reverse the conviction that kept JBJ out of politics for five years, though they were able to restore his ability to earn a living as a lawyer. The Government responded by ending appeals to the Privy Council.
When my father finally managed to get back into Parliament, after the time period had expired, Government Ministers and their cronies sued him into bankruptcy through the use of Singapore’s draconian defamation laws helped by a compliant judiciary that obliged the Ministers by awarding damages several orders of magnitude greater than other plaintiffs had ever achieved.
This persecution continued even after my father’s death. When a group wanted to endow a chair at our leading university in his name they were told this would not be possible as JBJ had a criminal record. This is the future that awaits a criminalised and dehumanised Amos should he be forced to return to Singapore.
There has been much misinformation spread about LKY’s successor, his son Lee Hsien Loong in the Western media with talk of a gentler more liberal Singapore. The evidence, such as LHL’s personal defamation suit against a lone blogger, Roy Ngerng, with the usual massive damages awarded, the jailing of a pregnant Australian blogger and her husband, and the British author Alan Shadrake, a 75 year-old man, suggests otherwise.
I expect that the Western media will also distract with tales of ludicrous laws pointing to what a law abiding society Singapore is and saying that Singapore, in contrast to the USA, rightly puts communal values above individual freedom. Will the articles on Loo flushing fines or the ubiquitous chewing gum ban mention that homosexuality is criminalised? That the Katie Perry song “I kissed a girl” is banned from our airwaves that a book about a same sex penguin family was removed from our public library. The freedom of assembly does not exist. Strikes are illegal There are no independent unions. You can’t open a newspaper unless the Government or its friends hold the controlling shares. News websites must be registered with the Media Development Authority (MDA) and put up a hefty deposit that will be forfeited if they do not take down articles when told to do so. Any website that the Government deems political can be gazetted and subjected to onerous restrictions on accepting advertising from abroad even though state media is allowed to do so. Political parties cannot produce a website or blog or newsletter without permission from the MDA.
The situation for Amos in the newer more tightly controlled Singapore is even bleaker than for my father who was at least a grown man with a successful career as a barrister and judge behind him before the persecution began. Amos’ life will in effect be over before it begins.
Amos has done nothing more than exercise the rights that teenagers in the West take for granted. I hope his application for asylum will be approved and that the USA will give this teenager the chance to finally enjoy a normal life free from persecution in a real democracy, not the fake one that Singapore so brilliantly emulates.
Human Rights Watch also issued a statement in support of Amos’s bid for asylum. You can view it here: