by Teo Soh Lung
“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14(1).
Amos Yee has now been granted asylum by the United States on the grounds of persecution by the Singapore government. While the Singapore government may be unhappy with what the Immigration Judge Samuel B Cole said in his judgement, I am sure it is pleased with “getting rid” of him.
Some people suspect that Yee sought asylum because he wanted to evade national service. The same allegation was made by the Singapore government against Tan Wah Piow 40 odd years ago.
Then there are others who distinguished Tan from Yee. They claim that while Tan as a young student leader, championed the rights of retrenched workers and was seen as a potential opponent of the People’s Action Party (PAP) government, Yee is just a selfish little brat, posting videos with the sole aim of gaining publicity for himself and for material gains.
While Yee’s lawyer and supporters did their homework by supplying the immigration judge with detailed cases of persecution of activists and political opponents by the Singapore government and even called Kenneth Jeyaretnam, an opposition party leader whose father was subjected to endless prosecutions by the PAP government as a witness, the Homeland Security Department did not call any witness to rebut Yee’s claim.
The Homeland Security Department had argued that the Singapore government’s prosecution of Yee for insulting religion and obscenity in 2015 was lawful and conducted in accordance with Singapore laws. The Immigration Judge, Samuel B Cole however decided that “Singapore prosecuted Yee under the guise of its laws prohibiting insulting religion and obscenity.”
Judge Cole went on to say that “… evidence presented at the hearing demonstrates Singapore’s prosecution of Yee was a pretext to silence his political opinions critical of the Singapore government. His prosecution, detention and general maltreatment at the hands of the Singapore authorities constitute persecution on account of Yee’s political opinions. Yee is a young political dissident, and his application for asylum is granted.”
The judge’s reasons for granting asylum to Yee blemishes the image of Singapore as a developed country which claims to respect the rule of law. For her citizens to flee to another country to seek asylum and to be granted asylum is to confirm that persecutions do exist in Singapore. It is little wonder that the Ministry of Home Affairs have worked through the weekend and issued a statement! So have the Law Society of Singapore and the Association of Criminal Lawyers today.
I do not know if there are citizens from developed countries who have sought political asylum from another developed country. I can think of two high profile cases – Julian Assange, Australian and Editor in Chief of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, an American Computer Professional. They have offended the American government and some of her allies by leaking secret papers from the CIA to the world. They have informed the world that even heads of state are not safe from having their private phone conversations tapped by the Americans!
It depends on whose side you are with. If you are a government official, you will say that it is wrong for Assange and Snowden to do what they did. But if you are a person who values privacy and truth, then you will be grateful to them and acknowledge them as heroes!
Besides Assange and Snowden, I cannot think of any other person from a developed country which is not at war, who seeks refuge in another country. The exception is Singapore.
Operation Spectrum in 1987, resulted in one former prisoner and several friends of those arrested seeking political asylum from America, Australia and Belgium. I believe their applications for asylum, like Yee’s, were supported by documents and testimonies claiming fear of returning to Singapore. They were granted asylum and subsequently, citizenship.
Yee’s asylum application has exposed the Singapore government’s mean treatment of her citizens in a way no other asylum applications has done before. The world now know the nature of our government, our prosecutors, judiciary, penal and mental institutions.
According to statistics of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, there are around one million people seeking asylum every year as a result of conflict or violence. Singapore’s asylum seekers are not running away from war but from persecution by their own government.