YouTuber Jailed In Singapore For Criticizing The Government Seeks Asylum In The US
from the are-we-still-a-country-that-believes-in-free-speech? dept
Last year, we wrote about the ridiculous situation for Amos Yee, a teenager in Singapore who was arrested for some of his YouTube videos criticizing Lee Kwan Yew, the country’s founder and long-time Prime Minister. As we said at the time, watching the videos over which he was arrested (which have since been made private), it seemed clear that Yee was doing what many teenagers do, and mouthing off to authority. He was a precocious kid with strong opinions, and he had an audience on YouTube. Good for him.
We quoted an excellent New Yorker profile of Yee at the time that had this fantastic paragraph, written by Nathan Heller:
Yee has all the hallmarks of a green and thriving mind; he is exactly the kind of person you would one day want reviewing your books, making your movies, maybe even running your country. Americans, who enjoy the benefits of free media, have a responsibility to take him more seriously than they take the government that has tried to quiet him for thinking freely in the public sphere. And those of us in the Fourth Estate have a duty to spread word of his ridiculous charges. If people like Amos Yee end up the custodians of our profession, the future of countries like Singapore can be brighter than their past.
A few months ago, Yee got in trouble yet again. Specifically, he was thrown in jail for criticizing religions (Christianity and Islam in particular). Once again, it involved an opinionated teen being punished for his opinions — though, as Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch noted at the time, there appeared to be something of a Streisand Effect going on:
“Every time the authorities go after him, it just adds to his online audience,” said Mr Robertson in an email.
Apparently, Yee has had enough of being sent to jail in Singapore for his opinions and has applied for political asylum in the US. Somewhat amusingly, just a day before hopping a flight to Chicago, Yee gave an interview to a Singapore publication claiming that he was a changed individual, and had a new view on freedom of expression:
Yee explains that his position now is: if a social media user is found to be inciting harassment and gets taken down, that isn?t clamping down of free speech. That?s what should be done.
Along that line, he also believes it would have been reasonable for YouTube to take down many of his videos, which he has now largely retrospectively privatised.
?I could even go as far as to say that my kind of video that humps the Quran, and was overly rude to religious people. I?d probably want my videos and maybe even my account to be taken down too. It is just not a good way to communicate information to people.?
And then the next day he suddenly arrived in Chicago seeking asylum:
Amos Yee, 18, was detained Dec. 16 and remains in custody “pending federal immigration court proceedings,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Gail Montenegro said in a written statement.
Separately, Marilu Cabrera with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which handles some asylum requests, said the agency “cannot confirm or deny” details of any asylum case.
The Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia, Phil Robertson, called on the U.S. to recognize Yee’s asylum claim, saying he has been consistently harassed by the Singapore government for publicly expressing his views on politics and religion and severely criticizing the city-state’s leaders, including late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Whether or not you agree with Yee’s views, it is an important free speech case — and granting him asylum would be a good way to show that the US still does believe in promoting freedom of expression around the globe.