U.N. Backs Singaporean Blogger as More Jail Time Looms

U.N. Backs Singaporean Blogger as More Jail Time Looms
What you need to know

The United Nations has slammed the Singaporean government as a 17-year-old blogger faces more time behind bars for 'wounding' religious feelings.

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Singaporean blogger Amos Yee (余澎杉) was back in court this morning facing charges of offending Muslims and Christians just over a year after being jailed on the same charges.

He spent about 50 days in jail in 2015, having been found guilty of “wounding” religious feelings and posting an obscene image – the doctored image depicted former Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀) and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Yee, 17, was described by the BBC last year as “the enfant terrible who has fascinated and infuriated Singaporeans ever since he was arrested in March [2015] over a YouTube video.” The video, which is titled “Lee Kuan Yew Is Finally Dead,” openly criticizes the legacy of Singapore’s founding father and longtime leader. He also criticized Christianity.

The teenager now faces six new charges of intending to wound the feelings of Muslims or Christians and two counts of failing to report to police for investigations, Singapore’s Straits Times reports. The charges relate to comments and posts made on his blog and Facebook. Yee could face a prison sentence of up to three years for the religious charge, and fines or a one month sentence for the latter charge. The trial is expected to last four days.

Amos Yee leaves the State Court after his trial in Singapore
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像
Amos Yee waves as he leaves the State Courts after his trial in Singapore May 12, 2015. A Singapore court found the teenager guilty of offending Christians and spreading an obscene image in an online post that also carried comments celebrating the death of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Widening crackdown

The United Nations has voiced concern the proceedings reflect a “widening crackdown” not only on controversial expression but also political criticism and dissent.

The U.N. points to cases involving Soh Lung, a human rights lawyer, and Roy Ngerng (鄞義林), a blogger, who were investigated for allegedly breaching the Parliamentary Elections Act for posts on their private Facebook accounts that discussed government transparency and accountability.

“Threats of criminal action and lawsuits contribute to a culture of self-censorship, and hinder the development of an open and pluralistic environment where all forms of ideas and opinions should be debated and rebutted openly,” says David Kaye, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.

Kaye notes that while no charges have been brought against Lung and Ngerng.

“States are under an obligation not only to respect and protect, but also to promote freedom of expression,” he says. “Increased criminalization of expression is in breach of this obligation.”

Earlier this week, Singapore's parliament passed a controversial new law defining what conduct can be penalized as contempt of court. Breaches of the law can result in fines up to S$100,000 (US$75,000) or up to three years imprisonment. Many activists and commentators are critical of the law, saying it could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Singapore and abroad.

In what may be a significant sign of rising frustration with the current Singaporean government, Lee Wei Ling (李瑋玲) – Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter and sister of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) – has been openly critical of the law on Facebook.

▶ See also: "ANALYSIS: Singapore’s New Justice Law has Far-Reaching Implication"

▶ See also: “Singapore’s Controversial New Contempt of Court Bill Passes amid Growing Concern”

Kaye also notes that under international human rights law, Yee is a child and trials concerns an “expression that is lawful.”

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole