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Singapore Court Frees Amos Yee, Teen Blogger Who Insulted the Late Lee Kuan Yew

In a surprising turnaround amid growing international pressure from human rights groups to release the teen, the court freed him on Monday, sentencing him to time already served.

by VICE News
Jul 6 2015, 4:10pm

Photo by Wallace Woon/EPA

When 16-year-old Singaporean Amos Yee recorded an expletive-ridden video attacking the country's founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, following his death in March, he goaded the government to "come at me, motherfucker" — and officials quickly obliged. The outspoken blogger was hauled into detention and eventually convicted in May on charges of insulting Christians in the video as well as of obscenity for posting a crude image depicting Lee in a compromising sexual position with Margaret Thatcher, the former UK prime minister.

Late last month, a judge overseeing the case ordered a two-week psychiatric evaluation for Yee in a mental institution ahead of sentencing to determine if he had a mental disorder. Yee faced at least 18 months in "reformative training" for juvenile offenders.

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

But in a surprising turnaround amid growing international pressure from human rights groups to free the teen, the court released him on Monday, sentencing him to time already served.

Yee spent a total of 50 days in detention since the afternoon of March 29, when he was apprehended shortly after an elaborate state funeral was held for Lee, who is widely regarded as independent Singapore's founding father. In one of the video's more colorful lines, Yee complains that "all day you see 24-hour news coverage of necrophiliacs sucking Lee Kuan Yew's dick."

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

The 8-minute long video, titled "Lee Kuan Yew Is Finally Dead," and the image of Lee and Thatcher have been shared on social media and viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

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

Yee's time in detention was sporadic — he was released, but returned to custody after breaching his bail conditions several times. Earlier in June, a doctor speculated that the teen might suffer from autism-spectrum disorder, but the court-ordered mental evaluation determined that Yee has no psychiatric problems.

The teen's continued detention received international attention and was condemned by Human Rights Watch. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also urged Yee's release, noting that it would be in line with Singapore's commitment under the UN Convention on the Rights of Child. Prosecutors ultimately dropped their request for a lengthy period of reformative training after Yee put in writing that he would take down the video and image and never re-post them — though Yee has violated previous pledges to do so.

In sentencing Yee to four weeks' detention on Monday, the court backdated his sentence to June 2, allowing him to walk free. The blogger is expected to appeal his convictions, his lawyer said.

Photos and video footage showed Yee appearing sullen as he was greeted by a crush of press as he left the court after his release. He was chaperoned by his father and mother, who wore a shirt with a picture of her son sitting in a yellow submarine. Below the design was the hashtag #FreeAmosYee.