Amos Yee, 17, a blogger from Singapore, has been sentenced to six weeks in prison, plus a fine of $1,500 U.S., because he “deliberately elected to do harm by using offensive and insulting words and profane gestures to hurt the feelings of Christians and Muslims.”
Such was the pronouncement of district judge Ong Hian Sun, according to CNN, which reports Yee was facing six charges of “wounding religious feeling” with his social media posts — he has a preference for YouTube rants. He was also slapped with two charges of failing to report to the police station when summoned.
This wasn’t the first time Yee’s YouTube videos got him in trouble. A 2015 rant in which he called the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew a “totalitarian” and compared him to Chairman Mao, Stalin, Hitler, and Jesus Christ, brought a three-week prison sentence, which was ultimately commuted to time served.
As the Committee to Protect Journalists noted at the time, it was evidently Lee’s religious comments in that earlier video that brought him the most trouble. One of the charges against him was “deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person,” which sounds like essentially the same statute he was just imprisoned for.
This time, he pleaded guilty to the charges and told CNN in a phone interview that he considered his sentence a “good deal,” since he could have faced up to six years in prison.
“I think that if I do continue to make critical social media posts I’ll post things that aren’t illegal. I think that will be possible,” Yee said.
AFP quotes him telling reporters after his court appearance that “you can be sent to jail for criticising Islam in Singapore even if you’re a kid.”
In the AFP piece, Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch castigated Singapore, saying that “by prosecuting Amos Yee for his comments, no matter how outrageous they may have been, Singapore has unfortunately doubled down on a strategy that clearly violates freedom of expression.”
“For a country that prides itself on efficiency, Singapore should re-examine its approach, because every time the authorities go after him, it just adds to his online audience who are interested to find out the latest thing he said,” Robertson added.
Actually, intimidating people out of speaking could be an efficient approach to suppressing expression — it matters little how many fans await Yee’s next transgressive YouTube video if he’s afraid to make them.
The Singapore Straits Times quotes a defense lawyer stating that Yee “admits he does not possess any religious, scholastic, and/or intellectual ability to discuss religion,” and that his “contemptuous and vituperative language” shows his “shallowness of his thoughts in respect of both Christianity and Islam.”