THE U.S. government should recognise the asylum claim of controversial Singaporean blogger Amos Yee, who has been subjected to “a sustained pattern of persecution” by the Singapore government, said rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson, said in a statement that Yee has faced consistent harassment and bullying for his views on politics and religion.
Yee has been jailed twice: in September this year, he was sentenced to six weeks’ jail for “wounding the religious feelings of Christians and Muslims”, while last year, he was sentenced to four weeks in jail for “wounding the religious feelings of Christians” and “uploading an obscene image”.
— Phil Robertson (@Reaproy) December 24, 2016
“Since his release from prison, Yee has faced intensive government surveillance and monitoring of his public and on-line comments. Amos Yee is the sort of classic political dissident that the UN Refugee Convention was designed to protect,” said Robertson.
“No one should doubt that it was the Singapore government’s actions to consistently harass and bully Amos Yee for his activism, and ultimately criminalize his acts, that led Amos Yee to this appeal for protection as a refugee,” he added.
On Saturday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Gail Montenegro confirmed in a written statement that Yee is currently being held in custody by U.S. officials after being detained at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on December 16 and will remain in custody “pending federal immigration court proceedings.”
Yee’s U.S. lawyer Sandra Grossman told the South China Morning Post on Saturday that Yee was likely detained because he entered the country on a tourist visa despite an intention to apply for asylum.
She explained that Yee would have to undergo a “credible fear interview” with an asylum official to assess if he faces a credible fear of persecution or torture back home.
Grossman added that the process usually takes a few days, but the holiday season could delay it. He would then appear before an immigration judge, but that could take years because of backlogs in the immigration system.
Speaking to Byline, U.S.-based Singaporean activist Melissa Chen, whom Yee had been turning to for advice on how to make a bid for political asylum, said: “His attorneys are in the process of expediting USCIS to grant him the ‘credible fear interview’. Once this interview has been conducted, the lawyers intend to ask for immediate parole which would allow him to be released from detention centre.”
However, Chen said the asylum process is not a short one, and it wasn’t clear how long Yee might have to stay in detention. “Given the uncertainty, Amos might very well be in U.S. jail longer than he was in Singapore jail for his sentences,” she said.
Chen added that if Yee were to remain in Singapore, “he would be in and out of prison for the rest of his life”.
“He’s also been assaulted by members of the public, and by fellow inmates when he was in prison, so the ‘persecution’ is not just from the government – it’s from society at large too. If Amos cannot successfully seek asylum in the one country, for which the very First Amendment in its Bill of Rights is the freedom of speech, where else can he go?” she said.
According to Chen, Yee told her that U.S. jail is “heaven” compared to what he experienced in Singapore, and “if that gives him asylum and freedom, then it is totally worth it”.
According to reports by Singaporean media, Yee, 18, is also due to enter the National Service – a mandatory two-year conscription into the military for all Singaporean males.
Additional reporting by Associated Press.