The recent success of 17-year-old Singaporean Amos Yee in seeking political asylum in the US has led to a diplomatic dispute between the two countries.
And while the international media, including the media in Hong Kong, have referred to Yee as a “political dissident”, he has received very little sympathy from among Singaporeans themselves.
In March 2015, shortly after the death of Lee Kuan Yew, Amos Yee uploaded a video clip to YouTube in which he strongly criticized Lee for being an autocrat during his lifetime.
Shortly after that, he was arrested by the Singaporean authorities on charges of causing public nuisance and “hurting the racial and religious emotions of the Singaporean people”, and was then remanded in custody in a mental hospital.
Then in November 2015 after he was released, Yee uploaded another video clip to the internet criticizing government officials and was again arrested by the authorities, this time on a charge of blasphemy against Muslims. He was sentenced to six weeks in prison.
In December last year, Yee sought political asylum in the US while he was visiting the country on a tourist visa.
During the initial court hearing, the lawyer representing Yee argued that his client fully met the key criteria of being a political prisoner under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which was concluded in 1951.
Under the convention, any person who has well-founded fears that they may face persecution by their own governments based on their ethnicity, religious beliefs, political opinions or political affiliations is eligible to seek political asylum in a foreign country, and the government of any signatory from which that person is seeking asylum should offer them non-refoulement protection.
Yee’s lawyer cited the jail terms he received because of his anti-government remarks on YouTube as solid evidence that Yee was persecuted by his own government because of his political opinion, and that he could risk being persecuted again once he returned to Singapore, hence his eligibility for seeking political asylum on US soil.
Although the US is not a signatory to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, it did sign the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1967 that deals specifically with European refugees.
Given that the principle of “Non-refoulement protection” laid down in that 1967 treaty has already become binding in international law, the immigration tribunal of Chicago ruled in favor of Yee on March 24 this year and granted him the status of political refugee as well as the right of abode in the US.
However, the court decision has raised a lot of eyebrows in Singapore.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Apr. 11
Translation by Julie Zhu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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