BuzzFeed just published a lengthy account by reporter Atossa Araxia Abrahamian about Singaporean YouTuber Amos Yee, the 18-year-old atheist provocateur who has been repeatedly targeted for his supposedly “blasphemous” videos and who has been held in U.S. detention facilities since December.
By way of background, you may recall that Yee was arrested and convicted of “wounding religious feelings” and “obscenity” in 2015 after he made a video mocking Christianity along with Singapore’s founding father Lee Kwan Yew. Though he was handed a jail sentence of multiple weeks, the court awarded him “time served” for how long he had been in custody and basically let him go.
So he continued posting his videos.
Then, last summer, they came after him again.
The 17-year-old was arrested on May 11 and released on bail of S$5,000.
Five of the charges Yee faces are for allegedly wounding the religious feelings of Muslims, and one for allegedly wounding the religious feelings of Christians. These charges are under Section 298 of the Penal Code.
If convicted, Yee could have spent up to three years in jail in addition to a fine.
Yee was thankfully (?) hit with a jail sentence that only lasted six weeks. Any amount of time is too much, to be sure, but in this case, it could have been so much worse. Yee also had to pay a fine of $2,000.
In December, Yee came to Chicago on a tourist visa with the hope of seeking asylum… but, perhaps because of that bait-and-switch (he wasn’t actually a tourist), he was kept in detention. He had a case, though. If they sent him back home, he risked further prosecution (or worse).
I thought for a while that he would be granted asylum and that the U.S. would take him in as a political refugee. But since December, things have not gotten any better. He’s still locked up while his case proceeds through the courts, and none of it is helped by the Trump administration’s position against taking in people from other countries even when their lives are in peril. If Yee returns to Singapore, a long jail sentence is pretty much a given. But can anyone really say he’s better off in the U.S. right now?
And all this for basically being a popular troll online. For having thoughts that a lot of people find offensive.
Abrahamian’s account walks through much of what’s happened since his arrival in the U.S.
How Yee got here — and, indeed, why a citizen of a wealthy, sophisticated developed country would need to beg the US government for asylum at all — speaks to what happens when politics are global, but the right to express them is not. It’s a story about the regulation of the internet, and whether it’s reasonable for a government to grant its citizens the right to read and watch what they like online, but not express the views they form themselves. It’s about how a child’s blog can end up having lifelong repercussions; it’s about whether the Trump administration’s hard line on immigrants and refugees will extend to someone whom human rights groups around the world have described as a prisoner of conscience.
You don’t have to agree with anything Yee says to understand that he hasn’t done anything deserving of the punishments he’s received so far. (And many of his opinions are absurd.) Still, if saying offensive things was a crime, a lot of us would be in jail right now. And for the U.S. to drag this case out as long as it has is appalling. He doesn’t deserve this.
I’m grateful for the activists — some of whom are mentioned in the article — who have been helping Yee along the way, even if we disagree about so many other issues.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier)