Singapore: Amos Yee sentence a dark day for freedom of expression

The four-week jail sentence handed down to Singapore teenage blogger Amos Yee violates the right to freedom of expression and should be quashed, Amnesty International said today.

The sentence against the 16-year-old boy was backdated to 2 June 2015 so he was able to leave court this afternoon, having already served the jail time.

A Singapore court found Amos Yee guilty on 12 May 2015 of “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious or racial feelings of any person”, after criticising the late Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew online. He was also found guilty of “transmitting obscene materials” after posting a cartoon of Lee and former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Amos Yee is not a criminal. He should never have been charged, let alone convicted. He has been punished solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression.”
Rupert Abbott, South East Asia and Pacific Research Director at Amnesty International.

The teenager’s lawyers have said he intends to appeal against his conviction to the High Court.

“Amos Yee is not a criminal. He should never have been charged, let alone convicted. He has been punished solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression,” said Rupert Abbott, South East Asia and Pacific Research Director at Amnesty International.

“If there is any justice Amos Yee would be walking free from court without a conviction against his name. The Singapore authorities must respect the right to freedom of expression.”

 Amos Yee spent a total of 55 days detained on remand as the court considered his sentence. Amnesty International designated him a prisoner of conscience, held solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and called for his immediate and unconditional release.

During the teenager’s two-week stay at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), his mother spoke publicly about the mental and physical toll this had on her son.

Amos Yee was held in Block 7, where individuals suffering from mental illness and who have been convicted of criminal offences are kept. For 23 hours a day, he was kept in a cell with closed-circuit security cameras and with the lights always on. He usually spent the one hour each day he was allowed to leave his cell undergoing psychiatric assessment.

The case against the teenage blogger has shone a spotlight on the wider restrictive environment for freedom of expression in Singapore. As the country celebrates 50 years of independence, opposition activists, former prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders continue to express dismay about the restricted space for public discussion, and the government’s tight control of critical debate.

The authorities persist in using defamation laws against critics, and the media continues to be tightly controlled through restrictive censorship laws.

“The Singapore authorities should repeal or review and amend all laws which impose unlawful restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, to ensure that they comply with international human rights law and standards,” said Rupert Abbott.