MHA: US adopts a different standard from Singapore towards hate speech

In a statement responding to media queries on the asylum granted to Singaporean blogger Amos Yee, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) noted that Yee had engaged in various instances of hate speech in Singapore against Christians and Muslims.

Yee was 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.

The US, said the MHA, adopts a different standard from Singapore towards hate speech. “It allows some hate speech under the rubric of freedom of speech. The US for example, in the name of freedom of speech, allows the burning of the Quran.”

“Anyone who engages in hate speech or attempts to burn the Quran, Bible, or any religious text in Singapore, will be arrested and charged.” said the ministry, “There are many more such people, around the world, who deliberately engage in hate speech, and who may be prosecuted.”

MHA also pointed out that the US Department of Homeland Security had opposed Yee’s asylum application on the basis that Yee had been legitimately prosecuted.

“Some of them, will no doubt take note of the US approach, and consider applying for asylum in the US.” said MHA.

The Department of Homeland Security has 30 days (until 24 April 2017) to file an appeal against the ruling. If the Government fails to appeal, the decision will become final. In the interim, Grossman Law has contacted the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Chicago to secure Yee’s immediate release, and it is said that Yee can be released as soon as Monday.

Prosecution under laws of general applicability may still constitute persecution when executed for a “nefarious purpose

The Immigration Judge, Samuel B. Cole in his judgement addressed the opposition of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of Yee’s asylum request.

DHS argues that Yee was prosecuted under laws of general applicability and therefore does not qualify as persecution on account of Yee’s political opinion, however, Judge Cole stated that prosecution under laws of general applicability may still constitute persecution when executed for a “nefarious purpose.”

The Judge determined that the video which Yee was charged for in 2015 contained harsh criticism of both late Lee Kuan Yew and the Singapore government and the point of religion was only tangential to the video.

He pointed out that the video was entirely about Mr Lee and Singapore and the discussion of religion were only used to make a point about Yee’s dismal opinion of Mr Lee. “In fact, religion took up only about 30 seconds of the video’s 8½ minute content”

The judge noted that the public response to the video was entirely about the criticism of Mr Lee and not about its offense to religion. DHS did not rebut the testimonies by Yee and the two witnesses about the nature of the public attention of the video.

Other than stating that the prison sentence for Yee was unusually long and harsh, the judge also noted that there were individuals who made disparaging comments about religions but were not critical of the Singapore regime avoided prosecution. “These include Calvin Cheng and Jason Neo…Both made comments critical of Islam, equating Muslims with terrorists. Neither was charged.”

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.

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.