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Singapore Teen Who Insulted Former Leader Held in Mental Institution Pending Sentencing

As human rights campaigners call for Amos Yee's release, his defiance and brashness have led the authorities to speculate wildly on the underlying causes of his behavior.

by VICE News
Jun 23 2015, 8:56pm

Photo via The Straights Times/SPH Singapore Out/EPA

A hearing in the case of Amos Yee, the Singapore teen blogger convicted of obscenity after posting an expletive-filled video rant aimed at the state's late leader, Lee Kuan Yew, ended Tuesday with a judge ruling that he should be held in a mental institution for a two-week psychiatric evaluation ahead of sentencing.

The 16-year-old's sentencing on July 6 could see him placed in "reformative training" — an ostensible rehabilitation program for offenders between 16 and 18, according to local media — for at least 18 months.

Yee was found guilty on May 12 of distributing an obscene image of Lee, Singapore's founding prime minister, who died in March at age 91. The image Yee posted online features a photo of Lee's face superimposed onto a cartoon drawing of a man in a wheelbarrow sexual position with a woman bearing the face of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. 

Related: 'Come at Me, Motherfucker': Singapore Arrests Teen for Video Insulting the Late Lee Kuan Yew

The teen was also convicted of hurting the feelings of Christians, whom he was accused of broadly disparaging in an eight-minute video that he released after Lee's death. Titled "Lee Kuan Yew Is Finally Dead," it briefly compares Lee to various dictators who flash across the screen — Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler — before Yee likens him unfavorably to Jesus Christ: "They are both power hungry and malicious but deceive others into thinking that they are compassionate and kind."

Yee's video also criticized what he described as misconceptions about Singapore's wealth, income distribution, and civil liberties.

Related: Singapore Teen Amos Yee Guilty of Insulting Christians, Posting Lewd Cartoon of Late PM

The blogger was released on bail following his conviction, but was taken back into custody on June 2 and remanded to Changi prison after District Judge Jasvender Kaur ordered authorities to assess the teen's suitability to participate in reformative training. Juveniles in the program are housed separately from adult inmates.

Judge Kaur's decision Tuesday to hold Yee in Singapore's Institute of Mental Health pending a further medical assessment came after the teen reneged on the terms of his probation and failed to go to meetings with his probation officer. He had also reportedly reposted the original video again in May, despite being told by the court to take the video down and to refrain from posting to social media.

Earlier this month, a doctor made an assessment of the 16-year-old mental health and determined that he may suffer from autism-spectrum disorder. Yee's father told the media that previous medical visits had offered no indication that his son might have a mental condition, but Yee's defiance and brashness have led the authorities to speculate wildly on the underlying causes of his behavior.

Yee's continued detention has been condemned by human rights campaigners who have called for his immediate release.

"The court has provided no adequate justification for Yee's further detention and has ordered forced psychiatric tests. He should be immediately released," said Human Rights Watch's Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson. "The dismal state of Singapore's respect for free expression can be seen in the decision to impose the criminal justice system on outspoken 16-year-olds."

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also urged Yee's release a statement on Monday, noting that it would be in line with Singapore's commitment under the UN Convention on the Rights of Child.

"While recognizing the Singapore authorities concern with public morality and social harmony, OHCHR is concerned that the criminal sanctions considered in this case seem disproportionate and inappropriate in terms of the international protections for freedom of expression and opinion," it said, asking prosecutors to drop their demand for reformative training.

Lee Kuan Yew presided over the wealthy city-state's development for 31 years and was beloved by many Singaporeans, but Yee's video pointedly criticized him for being autocratic and highlighted what he saw as inequity, fear, and repression in the country. Though the video was made private shortly after his arrest, it has been re-uploaded by other YouTube users and viewed hundreds of thousands of times.