MHA’s statement doesn’t get to the core of Amos Yee asylum bid
by Daniel Yap
WAS Amos Yee the victim of political persecution? That was the core question that the US Immigration Court, presided over by Judge Samuel Cole, tried to answer in the youth’s application for political asylum, and it was a point that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) failed to address with its response on Saturday (Mar 25).
It was not a question of whether what he did was legal in Singapore (it was not), or whether he was a seditious, hate-speech-spewing pain-in-the-arse and a drag on society. MHA’s statement tried to argue that the US and Singapore have different standards of what speech is legal, which doesn’t really do anything to rebut the core arguments at the US court.
Granted, MHA is not arguing a case before a judge – the US court case was between Amos Yee (who wants asylum) and the US Department of Homeland Security (that doesn’t want to give asylum). What about MHA? It appears to be simply broadcasting a message to try and throw shade at the US Immigration Court’s decision.
To borrow a phrase:
It is the prerogative of MHA to try and throw shade at another country’s judiciary. There are many more such people, around the world, who deliberately try and throw shade at another country’s judiciary, and who may be prosecuted. Some of them, will no doubt take note of MHA’s approach, and consider trying to throw shade at another country’s judiciary.
So what did MHA fail to address? We see how they measure up against the judgement (references to “Yew” are actually to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew).
“First, the video ‘Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead’… was scathing in its criticism of not just Yew but of the Singapore regime in general… The video contained harsh criticism of Yew and the Singapore government.”
“Second, religion was only tangential to the video. The video is almost entirely about Yew and Singapore, and its discussions of religion were only used to make a point about Yee’s dismal opinion of Yew.”
The US court was satisfied that the primary purpose of the video was to criticise Mr Lee, the Singapore Government and Singapore. This would then classify Yee’s action as a political one. The MHA statement doesn’t even mention anything about Yee’s political content and activity, which is odd since Yee is applying for political asylum.
“The public response to the video was entirely about its criticism of Yew, not about its offense to religion.”
The witnesses called on by Yee’s lawyers in the US case testified that the primary outcry against the video was because it criticised Mr Lee and was disrespectful towards him, not chiefly because it wounded religious feelings or because it was obscene. This testimony went unanswered by the Department of Homeland Security, and was not addressed by the MHA statement either. If there was a case for the public seeing it as more of an anti-Christian message than an anti-Lee Kuan Yew message, MHA should have brought it up.
“The evidence presented showed that Yee’s prison sentence was unusually long and harsh, especially for a young offender… the terms of Yee’s pre-trial release prohibited him from posting to social media. These restrictions were also highly unusual and restrictive and served the main purpose to silence Yee’s criticism of the government.”
The court hearing focused on Yee’s first prosecution, for which, in July 2015, he served a four-week sentence (although by that point Yee had already spent 55 days in custody). He was 16 at the time of his conviction and it is typical for offenders of that age to get sentences that do not include jail, especially for first-time offences and non-violent crimes. The US court judgement says that Yee was the youngest inmate in the prison during his incarceration.
His bail included the unusual condition that he not post or comment online while the case was ongoing, and in May 2015, his lawyers appealed against the ban, calling it “too broad and disproportionate”. MHA did not dispute any of these findings, choosing instead to say that “he was represented by counsel in both the 2015 and 2016 proceedings” although it is not clear if that is meant to rebut any of the points being made by the US judge.
“Other people who made disparaging comments about religions but who were not similarly 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.”
“Regarding the obscenity charge related to the line drawing, many more-explicit pictures are available to the Singapore public and do not result in prosecutions.”
MHA’s statement said that “anyone who engages in hate speech… will be arrested and charged.” Yee’s US counsel was able to convince the judge that hate speech laws in Singapore are not uniformly applied, and in Yee’s case were a pretext for political persecution.
Likewise for the charge of obscenity. The key difference between Yee’s obscenity and the plethora of other obscene material, the court noted, was that this line drawing had Mr Lee’s face superimposed on it.
“The country condition reports and expert and lay witness testimony all describe that this is the modus operandi for the Singapore regime – critics of the government are silenced by civil suit for defamation or criminal prosecutions.”
The court continued: “Though Yee’s prosecutions may have been legal under Singapore law, they clearly served a ‘nefarious purpose,’ namely, to stifle political dissent… The political persecution was a criminal persecution by the Singapore Government and was therefore inflicted by the government”.
To this, MHA simply says that “the US Department of Homeland Security had opposed Yee’s asylum application, on the basis that Yee had been legitimately prosecuted.”
Oddly, enough, MHA’s statement harping on the “legitimacy” of Yee’s prosecution may end up reinforcing the judgement given by the US court.
Featured image from TMG file.
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