Amos Yee at the State Court on 17 August 2016 (Photo - Terry Xu)

Amos Yee admits regret on provocative posts that landed him in jail twice

Amos Yee said on Friday (30 Dec) he regretted inflammatory posts that landed him in jail twice in his home country, he said that the videos he made which insulted Singapore’s late prime minister and various religions were in bad taste.

“I told you, it is hate speech, it is overly rude, it isn’t good activism,” Yee told Reuters by telephone from the McHenry County Adult Correctional Facility in Illinois.

“I completely regret making those videos,” he said.

Yee’s posts, and his ensuing trials and convictions in Singapore, have caused debate over censorship and free speech.

His trials were watched closely by the United Nations, EU as well as the human rights groups.

Last year, Yee was convicted of causing hurt to religious feelings for comments made in the video soon after Lee’s death and for publishing obscene image that depicted late Mr Lee and late Margaret Thatcher having sex. He was sentenced to four weeks in jail and released immediately since he was held longer by the police in custody than the sentenced period of imprisonment.

In September this year, Yee was again sentenced to six weeks in jail after pleading guilty to posting comments and videos that are critical of Christianity and Islam on the internet, along with failing to attend interviews arranged by police officers.

Yee was earlier detained at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on 16 Dec when he told the US Customs officials that he was seeking political asylum.

Yee said that he wanted to live in Illinois and has no plans to return to Singapore that has mandatory military service for males, which Yee said he would not take part in. He said he has had no contact with the Singaporean government since arriving.

Maryland-based lawyer Sandra Grossman, his attorney, said Yee should have his first hearing in front of a judge within a fortnight.

“According to current processing times, Amos should have an initial master calendar hearing within two weeks,” Grossman told AFP in an email.

During the initial court hearing Yee will have the opportunity to file for asylum, she said.

A full hearing on his application will be held six to eight weeks after.

She said, “If the judge grants asylum, Amos will become an ‘asylee’ and will be able to obtain his residency within one year,” adding that appeals can be made if asylum is denied.

Grossman is representing Yee free of charge, she said the case is ‘worthwhile’ because of the issues involved. “This is a case that will force us to look at our own national interest in free speech,” she said.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement had confirmed Yee was in custody pending federal immigration court proceedings. A spokeswoman said in a statement, “Amos Pang Sang Yee, 18, a national of Singapore, was encountered 16 Dec by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.”

“He was subsequently turned over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” the spokeswoman added.

Singapore’s foreign ministry has not responded to a request for comment, Reuter wrote.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said that Yee was a ‘classic political dissident’ who deserved asylum.

Whereas highly critical on the foreign actions of the US government, particularly on the Middle East drone strikes, Yee said the country provided the best platform for spreading his political message of anarchist communism and ending private property and wage labor.

“It is not going to the best country. This is about going to the country that most effectively promotes my political philosophy of anarchical communism,” Yee said.