Singapore teen in anti-Lee video walks free after sentencing
SINGAPORE – The Singaporean teenager behind online attacks on former premier Lee Kuan Yew was given a four-week jail term Monday but freed in view of time served since being accused of offending Christians and posting an obscene image.
Amos Yee, 16, was jailed for 3 weeks for wounding religious feelings in an expletive-laden YouTube video comparing Lee Kuan Yew to Jesus, which was posted after the independence leader’s death in March.
He also received a one-week jail term for posting an obscene drawing of Lee and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
District Court judge Jasvender Kaur backdated the sentence to June 2, when Yee was already in remand, saying the offences "were not serious in nature but not trivial either".
"We are very happy and delighted that we have come to this," Yee's lawyer Alfred Dodwell told reporters.
"He has been accordingly convicted, he has been sentenced today, it's been backdated, he's a free man today," he said, adding however that Yee wants to appeal his conviction.
Yee had faced an extended period behind bars. The maximum penalty for wounding racial or religious feelings is three years and distributing an obscene drawing is punishable by three months in jail.
Rights groups have criticised the city-state for arresting Yee and sympathisers staged rallies in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan to demand the boy's freedom ahead of the sentencing.
Jolovan Wham, a rights advocate who attended Monday's court session, said activists were "happy" that Yee has been freed.
"But we still condemn the fact that the judge has convicted him to 4 weeks imprisonment," he added.
A promise not to reoffend
State prosecutors said that Yee had breached his bail conditions, rejected probation and spurned suggestions that he voluntarily undergo psychiatric evaluation.
"Amos chose a course of action which led to remand and then prolonged that remand," the prosecutors said.
They said a shift in Yee's attitude was a key reason for their decision to withdraw their earlier call for him to be sent to a reform institution, where he would have had to stay for at least 18 months.
They noted that the teenager had now removed the offending materials which he had reposted online, and that he had told a psychiatrist he "would admit to his guilt and promised not to reoffend".
Yee's case gained international attention after critics of the long-ruling People's Action Party, co-founded by Lee Kuan Yew, said he was a victim of censorship and excessive punishment.
It has divided public opinion in the city-state, with some attacking Yee for insulting both Christianity and the nation's revered founding father, who was given a hero's funeral on March 29.
International rights advocates including the United Nations Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia and the US-based Human Rights Watch had called on the government to dismiss the case and immediately release Yee.
Amnesty International last week said it considered the teenager "a prisoner of conscience, held solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression". – Bhavan Jaipragas, AFP/Rappler.com