On March 24, the United States of America’s Immigration Judge, Samuel B. Cole, granted Amos Yee’s asylum application. Judge Cole concluded that the Singapore government persecuted Yee on account of his political opinion, and that Yee is deserving of asylum as a matter of discretion.
The judge considered the Freedom House and the World Press Freedom Index rankings of Singapore for his judgment. He noted that Singapore is indicated as “partly free” in the Freedom House listing, and that World Press Freedom Index listed Singapore at 153 – near bottom of its ranking.
The government of Singapore has always poo-pooed such international rankings and said that Singapore had to balance freedoms with rule of law. In speaking to Time magazine in 2015, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong justified the incarceration of Yee saying:
“There is always a balance between freedom and the rule of law; freedom is never totally unlimited. It operates within certain constraints. In our society, which is multiracial and multi-religious, giving offense to another religious or ethnic group, race, language or religion, is always a very serious matter. In this case, he’s a 16-year-old, so you have to deal with it appropriately because he’s of a young age.”
Speaking at the SG50+ conference in 2015, Mr Lee said that Freedom of Speech in Singapore has got its limitations. In that Speech he again referred to Yee.
“You know that the French had this murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonist in Paris earlier this year. Freedom of speech, ‘I am Charlie Hebdo’. We have freedom of speech too, but we also acknowledge restraints when it comes to denigrating somebody else’s faith, when it comes to proselytising and trying to persuade somebody else to come over to your faith. Or even when it comes to how you express your own beliefs so as not to cause offence to others and some of these are written down and in extremis, we have to we have to take a person to court. It’s happened with this young man Amos Yee recently.” (PM Lee, Opening Dinner Speech at SG50+ Conference)
Judge Cole commented on Yee’s convictions in Singapore and said: “Though Yee’s prosecutions may have been legal under Singapore law, they clearly served a ‘nefarious purpose.”
He also noted: “… other people who made disparaging comments about religions, but who were not similarly critical of the Singapore regime avoided prosecution. These included Calvin Cheng and Jason Neo… Both made comments critical of Islam, equating Muslims to terrorists. Neither was charged.”
The judgment especially referred to the Singapore Government’s dominance of the press and media; as well as its attempts to stifle online media.
Read the redacted version of the Judge’s decision here: http://www.grossmanlawllc.com/files/ij-decision_media.pdf