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It's public now: Amos Yee has been granted asylum in the United States.
This is a decision that strengthens my love for this country and what it truly stands for. There's a reason that free speech is prioritized and enshrined as the First Amendment. In a 13-page document, the judge wrote "it is clear that Yee's prosecutions for wounding religious feelings and obscenity was just a pretext to silence his opinions."
Many have asked why I bothered in the first place. Obviously I think his imprisonment in Singapore was unjust, and that he deserves a fresh start to live the rest of his life without the fear of being punished by the full force of the state for mere thoughtcrimes. Amos is in many ways a lot braver than I am. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at times afraid of being vocal about his case, simply because of the sheer amount of vitriol and even threats that came with being tried in the court of public opinion by nothing more than "guilt by association."
Of course it made me wonder: so much for that peaceful, harmonious society that the restrictive speech codes were supposed to foster in the first place. The amount of death and rape threats to Amos were appalling. I've actually collected reams of screenshots of these comments that were used as evidence.
Amos's right to freely express himself belongs to the same mesh of global contests against repression of dissent, from Raif Badawi's right to blaspheme to Charlie Hebdo's right to offend; from the right of Russian bloggers to criticize Putin's policies without being arrested for "promoting extremism" to the right of pro-Tibetan independence activists to not be jailed for “inciting ethnic hatred."
Europe has long dropped the ball on this, with many EU countries imposing legal prohibitions on anti-Semitic speech, Holocaust denial, racial slurs and other forms of "hate speech." Furthermore, assaults on the freedom of speech aren't just coming from governments. Here in the US, free speech is strongly upheld by our Constitution and the government, but increasingly, it is being threatened by students on liberal campuses. When progressive thinkers agree that offensive words should be censored, it helps authoritarian regimes to justify their own much harsher restrictions and intolerant religious groups their violence.
Amos is free now, but it doesn't stop here. I still want to make sure he settles in and adapts to life in America. There are still more struggles ahead for him personally.
Thank you to the many who supported him, who wrote official letters of
support to immigration authorities, the local Singaporean activists who
worked behind the scenes and testified, who gave me emotional and moral
support during dark times, who offered all you could whether it was
donations, gifts or your precious time and advice. I was taken aback by how
many of you wrote supportive notes to me in secret, requesting anonymity
because you couldn't be public about your support of such a controversial
Above all, thank you to the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) and the amazing,
tireless, compassionate work of Sandra Grossman and her team at Grossman Law,
I leave you with why we do this, why we fight for free speech and expression,
without which, freedom of religion virtually ceases to exist.
Nobody said it better than Steinbeck, whose words echo my own but with far
“And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human
is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the
freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I
must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or
destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.”