“Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience, held solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression,” the human rights organisation says in a statement released on Friday, 3 July, with regards to the case of Singaporean video-blogger, Amos Yee.
The 16-year old was found guilty of “wounding the religious feelings of Christians” on 12 May by the State Court for a video he had uploaded onto Youtube. He was also found guilty of a second charge of posting an obscene image on his blog.
An original third charge, that of having caused “distress” to those who viewed the video and who were thus “harassed”, was later withdrawn by the state prosecutors.
Since then, the case has taken on a mindboggling turn with the court, which was trying the teenager as an adult, calling for Amos Yee to be “assessed” three times for his suitability for various possible sentences.
The teenager was first to be assessed for probation. When he refused to meet with his probation officers, this was later changed to assessing him for reformative training.
Amos Yee was remanded for three weeks in Singapore’s main prison in Changi for this purpose.
After the results were out, the court decided to have him further assessed for his suitability to be issued a possible Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO).
The court then ordered him to be sent to be assessed by a psychiatrist – for two weeks in a mental institute where he is housed in the remand ward, which is believed to be normally reserved for those with mental illness and the criminally insane.
All in all, Amos Yee would have been held in remand for a total of 55 days by the time of his next hearing on 6 July 2015.
– 2 days of interrogation at Bedok police station on initial arrest.
– 18 days remand in Changi Prison when first arrested.
– 21 days remand in Changi Prison for RTC assessment.
– 14 days in remand in the Institute of Mental Health for MTO assessment.
The young boy could still face more prison time, or a minimum of 18 months in detention if he is sent for reformative training.
It is thus no surprise that many, including those who scorned at the teenager’s dismissive and bratty attitude towards his situation, are shocked at how the state is treating him.
Many, both in Singapore and internationally, are calling for his immediate release, saying that his “crime” of posting a rude video online did not warrant such excessive use of the law.
Even Christians, who are supposed to have been offended by his video, have stepped forward to say they were in fact not offended and that Amos Yee should be released.
Two petitions calling for this have attracted more than 10,000 signatures of support in total. (See here and here.)
Is Amos Yee then a prisoner of conscience, and the world’s youngest one too?
Amos Yee is believed to be persecuted or prosecuted for his political views, and not for his views on Christianity, despite the charges levelled at him by the public prosecutor.
Many hold the view that as his 8-minute video was released at a time when the country was mourning the death of its former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, the government felt that his video, in which he castigated the late Lee as a “horrible person”, was an affront to the memory of Mr Lee.
Thus, the government acted against him for purely political purposes, and not, as it claims, for protecting the “religious feelings of Christians”.
Seen in this light, Amos Yee would thus be a prisoner of conscience, as Amnesty International said.
Is Amos Yee then the world’s youngest prisoner of conscience?
Not exactly, although he is no doubt one of the youngest.
The youngest political prisoner is Gedhun Choekyi Nyima – the 11th Panchen Lama.
“In May 1995, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was only six years old when His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama identified him as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. China was so terrified of the young kid of six, that shortly afterwards, the young lama and his family disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.” (See here.)
Till this day, activists continue to campaign to have access to the Panchen Lama, who would be 26-years old now. (See here.)
Another young political prisoner is 17-year old Shahin Novruzlu in Azerbaijan.
In 2013, Shahin and his group of youth activists called for a peaceful protest against injustice in Azerbaijan through a Facebook event in February 2013.
“Shortly after, they were arrested and some of them tortured; the youngest activist, Shahin of 17, lost four of his front teeth”, while another in his group, Mammad Azizov, lost his hearing in his left ear.
Amnesty International had also called for their release.
While Amos Yee may not be the world’s youngest prisoner of conscience, his situation nonetheless calls for an urgent resolution, especially when reports have emerged that he is under mental stress while in the IMH, and after having been imprisoned for so many weeks – even before he has been sentenced.
While Amos Yee may not be the world’s youngest prisoner of conscience, he is undoubtedly Singapore’s youngest political prisoner.
This would go along with the other title that Singapore has held – for having Singapore’s and the world’s longest-serving political prisoner in Chia Thye Poh.
The Singapore government, under Lee Kuan Yew, had imprisoned and held him in detention for a total of 32 years – from 1966 to 1998 when he was finally allowed to be free.
This article was first published on The Online Citizen.