A GROUP of lawyers in Singapore on Tuesday expressed outrage over a United States court’s assertion that controversial blogger Amos Yee was persecuted in the city-state.
The Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore (ACLS) said the suggestion of Yee’s persecution by the government had led to the consequent “impugning of our criminal justice system in the American courts.”
“From our perspective, a finding that Yee was persecuted is baseless and unwarranted,” the association’s president Sunil Sudheesan said in a statement.
On Friday, an immigration judge in Chicago granted asylum to the Singaporean blogger, saying he was persecuted for political opinions in his home country.
A 13-page opinion by the judge said the 18-year-old, who had been jailed twice in Singapore, qualifies as a political refugee, making him immediately eligible for release after having been held in US immigration detention since Dec 16, 2016.
Yee has been jailed twice in Singapore for online comments. His trials, which have been closely watched by rights groups and the United Nations, have fuelled the debate in Singapore over censorship, the limits of free speech and political correctness.
The lawyers’ group, however, said characterising what Yee said as political speech or political opinion misses the point.
“Hate is hate, however you cloak it, and we firmly believe Singaporeans reject the politics of hate,” Sunil said, adding due process was followed and arguably “considerable latitude” was given to Yee during his judicial hearings.
The ACLS said it fully backed the efforts of the Attorney-General’s Chambers to prosecute and hopefully rehabilitate antisocial miscreants who share their views with a view to incite hate.
“Singaporeans jealously guard the multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious harmony we have,” Sunil explained.
“The fact remains that Singapore criminalises hate speech and the ACLS fully supports such a position in law.”
The group pointed out Yee had rejected the chance of probation during his first sentencing hearing, despite being ably represented at the time.
Sunil said if Yee wanted to live in Singapore, all he had to do is “abandon his hate or simply keep it to himself.”
“(But) If America wants this misguided recalcitrant, it can have him.”
Last September, Yee was sentenced to six weeks’ jail for “wounding the religious feelings of Christians and Muslims.”
In 2015, Yee was convicted on charges of harassment and insulting a religious group over comments he made about former premier Lee Kuan Yew and Christians soon after Lee’s death. His sentence at the time amounted to four weeks in jail.
Additional reporting by Reuters