Yesterday, I discussed the successful bid for political asylum in the US by 17-year-old Singaporean Amos Yee.
Shortly after the Chicago immigration tribunal ruled in favor of Yee and granted him refugee status, the Department of Homeland Security publicly voiced objections to the court decision, saying Yee did not qualify as a political prisoner or dissident at all.
The department argued that the Singaporean authorities had followed due process and standard procedure in handling Yee’s case and that there were no signs that Yee had been singled out because of his political opinions since the charges brought against him apply to all Singaporeans.
Besides, there was a diplomatic undertone to the opposing views of the department. Since Singapore is Washington’s closest ally and anti-terrorism partner in Southeast Asia, interfering in its local judicial affairs would not be in America’s best interests as it could undermine bilateral relations.
The Singaporean government also issued a statement immediately after the Chicago court ruling, saying the US should respect the fundamental differences over the definition of freedom of expression between the two countries. While in the US, people are free to express their views even if these might offend certain religions, such acts are strictly prohibited in Singapore.
It said the Singaporean government respects all religions, and therefore won’t tolerate any public verbal abuse based on religious differences.
The Singaporean government’s statement also gave a subtle warning to Washington. Granting Yee political asylum might inspire other people in other countries to deliberately make offensive or hateful remarks in order to get prosecuted by their local authorities so they can also seek political asylum in the US.
In other words, according to Singapore, the decision of the Chicago court might open the floodgates to undesirable foreigners from Third World countries who want to seek political asylum in the US.
In fact, even among the Singaporean public, many were dismayed at Yee’s disrespectful remarks about Lee Kuan Yew at a time when the country was mourning his death, and agreed with the way he was treated by the authorities.
After all, maintaining social stability has always been Singapore’s prime concern. As such, the People’s Action Party government is basically elected with a public mandate to eliminate any element in society that could lead to social instability, tension and unrest, even at the expense of certain civil rights that are taken for granted in the West.
Amos Yee’s success in seeking political asylum in the US also raises another moral issue: While tens of thousands of Syrian refugees whose lives are in danger on a daily basis have to go through extreme vetting that could last for years in order to be granted the status of refugees by the US, it only took three months for Yee to get approval without having to go through any vetting at all.
Doesn’t that show Washington has double standard when it comes to deciding who is a refugee and who is not?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 12
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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