Singaporean Blogger Amos Yee has been granted asylum by United States on 24 March after the immigration judge concluded that the Singapore government persecuted Yee on account of his political opinion, and that Yee is deserving of asylum as a matter of discretion.
Yee, who has been in U.S. immigration detention for more than 90 days, since 16 December 2016, is now immediately eligible for release. Yee was earlier detained in December last year when he arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, declaring as a visitor to the country as he had applied for political asylum in US with the help of a US non-government organisation before he flew over to the country.
In his judgement, Immigration Judge Samuel B. Cole noted that Yee’s social media posts in Singapore, though undoubtedly offensive to many, do not create any basis to deny asylum as a matter of discretion. He also noted that Yee has met his burden of showing that he suffered past persecution on account of his political opinion and has a well-founded fear of future perseuction in Singapore.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security actively opposed Yee’s application for asylum, claiming that the Singapore government legitimately prosecuted Yee under laws of general applicability.
Judge Cole disagreed. In his 13-page written decision, Judge Cole stated that “it is clear” that the Singapore government’s criminal prosecution of Yee for “wounding religious feelings” and “obscenity” was “just a pretext to silence his opinions.” He stated that the political persecution was a criminal prosecution by the Singapore government and was therefore inflicted by the government.
Relying on the substantial evidence that Yee’s pro bono counsel submitted to the Court, Judge Cole wrote that the Singapore government controls the mainstream media and “has enacted legislation to constrain” dissent on social media.
The Judge detailed the Singapore government’s routine use of sedition laws to arrest and silence online dissidents. Judge Cole concluded that Yee’s 2015 arrest and convictions clearly constituted past persecution on account of Yee’s political opinion.
Furthermore, Judge Cole argues that Yee’s treatment at the hands of the Singapore government rises to the level of persecution. Focusing on his first conviction when Tee was 16 years old, he was arrested at least twice, interrogated, prosecuted, placed on curfew, barred from social media, ordered to take down his social media posts, and finally imprisoned. In total, Yee was incaracerated 55 days between his time in a prison and a mental health facility.
Grossman Law, LLC, The law firm which represented Yee pro bono, applauds Judge Cole’s decision as a public pronouncement in its media statement, supporting the right of individuals to criticize their government.
“The right to free speech is sacred, even when such speech is considered offensive. The decision timely underscores the vital need for an independent judiciary in a functioning democracy. It further affirms our country’s leadership in defending the basic human right of all people to freely express themselves.” wrote Grossman, LLC.
In September 2016, Yee was jailed six weeks and fined $2,000 for eight charges – two for failing to turn up at a police station and six for intending to wound the feelings of Muslims and/or Christians. .
In July 2015, he served a four-week sentence for making remarks that were derogatory and offensive to Christians in an online video, posting an obscene image of late Lee Kuan Yew and Margaret thatcher. He was also initially charged under Protection of Harassment Act where people complained about being harassed for his insults against late Mr Lee.