Washington – Singaporean teen blogger Amos Yee has been granted political asylum in the United States after an immigration judge ruled that he bad been mistreated by the Singapore government.
Yee’s criminal persecution by the Singapore government for “wounding religious feelings” was “just a pretext to silence his opinions,” immigration judge Samuel B Cole said in a decision released Friday.
The blogger’s “prosecution, detention and general maltreatment at the hands of the Singapore authorities constitute persecution on account of Yee’s political opinions,” Cole said.
Singapore’s government uses laws to silence criticism and dissent, Cole said.
In a statement, Yee’s law firm Grossman Law called the decision a “public pronouncement supporting the right of individuals to criticize their government.”
The law firm said it has contacted immigration officials in Chicago about releasing Yee from prison. The 18-year-old has been detained since December pending his asylum application.
Immigration officials in the United States have 30 days to file an appeal.
If Yee’s bid for asylum had failed, he would have had to return to Singapore, where he is due to serve a compulsory two-year military conscription.
Yee has said in media reports that he fears returning to Singapore and being politically persecuted for his opinions.
Yee’s lawyer Sandra Grossman told dpa that Yee was pleasantly surprised at his verdict, noting that he is “encouraged and happy that he has a chance at freedom in the United States.”
Singaporean opposition politician Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s testimony for Yee’s case helped establish key points before the court, lawyer Grossman said in an email that Jeyaretnam posted on Facebook.
Singaporean prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and the ruling People’s Action Party “stand revealed for what they are: nasty bullies who rely on intimidation and fear, even to the extent of imprisoning children, to keep Singaporeans in line,” Jeyaretnam said in another Facebook post.
Yee’s case could spur Singaporeans to decide between having a free marketplace of opinions “or the barren place we have now,” where different opinions can lead to “devastating consequences,” renowned Singaporean lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam said on Facebook.
“We may or may not agree with his opinions and actions,” Thuraisingam said. “What we do need to think about is what kind of environment we want.”
Yee’s mother Mary Toh told dpa “this is just the start of a new phase,” but declined to comment further on the case.
Yee first gained notoriety when he published a video in 2012 mocking Chinese New Year traditions.
The teenage blogger was first arrested in March 2015 after he published an expletive-laden video criticising Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Christianity shortly after the elder
statesman’s death. Some 32 police reports were made about the video.
Yee also published a blog post with an explicit image of Lee and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
He was held in remand for more than 50 days before being convicted of wounding religious feelings. He received a backdated sentence of four weeks’ imprisonment.
Yee was convicted again in September, after his blog and Facebook posts were deemed to have wounded the feelings of Muslims and Christians.