“Lee Kuan Yew is dead. Finally! Why hasn’t anyone said, ‘Fuck yeah! The guy is dead?'” These are the words of sixteen-year-old Amos Yee; who at one point was the world’s youngest prisoner of conscience according to Amnesty International.
We don’t often hear about political dissidents in Singapore, and even less so in the west, and there is a reason for that. The often sanitised history of this small island nation occasionally gets marred by the odd rebel playing the wrong tune, yet as the Singaporean regime is in bed with western governments, criticism seldom gets reported in the mainstream media let alone through national governments. Criticising the cult-like ex-president Lee Kuan Yew however, was the cherry on the cake. It was essentially the biggest moral sin in Singapore to lambast a revered leader; akin to heckling Jesus at an Easter Sunday service; yet Amos Yee had the guts to do it when 5.6 million other Singaporeans felt too scared to do so… and it all started with this video uploaded in 2015:
“So no matter how rich the country he made is, or how many world leader dicks he sucked, it doesn’t mean a thing.”
Amos Yee is Singaporean born and bred, and therefore was indoctrinated into the country’s educational system and society under the People’s Action Party. He achieved good results at school and had an upbringing typical of many Singaporean children; so why does he have a mindset completely at odds with his fellow countrymen?
Yee was born in Generation Z, and because of this, he has had exposure to the internet and social media at a very young age; and as a result, we can see one of the first examples of activism from this generation. Being born fully into the information age, he was able to research and critique Lee Kwan Yew and the People’s Action Party unlike any others before him, cracking open what the world once thought was a benevolent leader who turned a small sea port into a bustling metropolis. But as Yee states; material wealth and investment hide the crippling poverty within the island nation.
Whilst his style can be considered to be brash and even sensationalist, his video was enough to cause offence, and it led to his arrest following thirty-two police reports, as well as an additional complaint after Yee had posted a caricature of Lee Kuan Yew having anal sex with Margaret Thatcher.
He was charged with “intentionally wounding religious or racial feelings” and creating “insulting communications,” drawing significant media attention; turning his unique criticism style into a cause célèbre. Even under arrest, he still had no fear of his government or Singaporean society.
He was taken to a psychiatrist by his mother who was concerned that he was “too daring,” only for Yee to quit after two appointments. Moreover, he deliberately flouted his bail conditions by crowdfunding for his legal proceedings, angering both the government and some Lee Kuan Yew’s admirers, and was thus taken to Changi Prison on remand.
Amos Yee has slapped by Neo Gim Huah before a court appearance, apparently to “teach him a lesson.”
Following a highly publicised incident in which 49-year-old Neo Gim Huah happy slapped Yee in an attempt to “instill fear” in the boy, his cause célèbre status was strengthened internationally. Furthermore, his subsequent legal appearance following the assault resembled more of a kangaroo court with a predetermined outcome rather than one of rational judgment. Not surprisingly, in September 2016 he was found guilty and sentenced to six weeks in prison and fined $2000 SGD, serving 21 days of his sentence with the remainder under house arrest.
Following his release, he applied for asylum in the United States. Initially flying to Chicago, he was detained and eventually granted sanctuary after an immigration judge ruled that he had faced persecution for his political beliefs back in Singapore. Despite this, the United States government appealed against this decision and Yee continues to be held at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Center in Wisconsin as he awaits a decision.
Censorship in 2017
So, what does the case of Amos Yee say about Generation X and Singaporean censorship? It shows how Singapore’s strict laws on censorship, many of which date from the colonial era, have struggled to keep up with the digital age. This, coupled with a generation whose lives have been almost entirely spent in the 21st century, with access to the internet and instant knowledge, has meant that there will be many more Amos Yees out there in oppressed countries where freedom of speech is heavily restricted.
For the world’s youngest prisoner of conscience; Amos Yee is not a rude, outrageous teenager who is seeking sensationalist fame; he is someone who is speaking out about a despotic regime and a dynastic political system in his country, and sacrificed his freedom for telling the truth.
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