What you need to know
Controversial blogger Amos Yee has pleaded guilty to two lighter charges, but still faces up to three years behind bars after turning down a plea bargain to charges of offending religious beliefs of Singaporeans.
Singaporean Amos Yee (余澎杉) today pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to report to the police. The controversial 17-year-old blogger faces six charges of offending Muslims and Christians, just over a year after being jailed on the same charges.
Yee’s latest trial started on Aug. 17 and has been criticized by the United Nations (U.N.) for breaching international law.
Yee said on Twitter today, “I pleaded guilty in court for not going to the police station because I did not go to the police station. That's a couple of weeks in jail.”
Those charges carry a maximum penalty of one month's jail and a fine of S$1,500 (US$1,100), while the charges for “wounding religious feelings” could see him jailed for up to three years, the Straits Times reports. The charges relate to comments and posts made on his blog and Facebook account.
The teenager, who spent about 50 days in jail last year, has continued to use social media throughout his trial. He said yesterday that 24 police reports were made by Singaporeans against him for “wounding religious feelings.” On Monday, he said he had “sat” while the rest of the courtroom stood to observe a one-minute silence for former president S. R. Nathan, who passed away on Aug. 22.
Yee, who is representing himself in the trial, said last week that 560 pages of his Internet history had been submitted as evidence.
The Straits Times notes there was a failed attempt to resolve the case without a trial.
Yee said he was offered “quite an attractive sentence” if he apologized and pleaded guilty to the religious related charges.
Earlier this month, 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 or up to three years imprisonment. Many activists and commentators have been critical of the law, saying it could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Singapore and abroad.
As one commentator noted, the U.N.’s statement ahead of Yee’s trial was probably in breach of Singapore’s new contempt of court laws.
Amnesty International has joined the U.N. in voicing support for Yee.
“Protection of religious or other beliefs, or the religious sensibilities of their adherents, is not a permissible ground for restricting freedom of expression,” the organization says. “Criticism of all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority, is also protected by the right to freedom of expression.”
The NGO adds that Yee’s trial “is yet another illustration of the Singapore authorities’ clampdown on critics and peaceful dissent in the country. Opposition activists, bloggers and human rights defenders in Singapore continue to face political repression, reprisals and intimidation.”
First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole