Monday, 27 March 2017

Amos Yee gets US asylum; Singapore says it's America's prerogative

US' prerogative to take in Yee, says Ministry of Home Affairs
The Sunday Times, 26 Mar 2017

It is the prerogative of the United States to take in people who engage in hate speech, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), following news that the US has granted teenage blogger Amos Yee asylum. Here is MHA's statement:

In 2015, Amos Yee was charged for engaging in hate speech against Christians.

He had said "Christians… are… power hungry and malicious but deceive others into thinking that they are compassionate and kind.

Their impact and legacy will ultimately not last as more and more people find out that they are full of bull… Similar to the Christian knowledge of the bible, and the work of a multitude of a priests."

He was convicted on the charge. He was also convicted on another charge for publishing an obscene image. He was sentenced to a total of four weeks' imprisonment for these charges.

In 2016, Yee was charged again for hate speech, this time against Muslims and Christians.

He had said "the Islamics seem to have lots of sand in their vaginas too… But don't mind them, they do after all follow a sky wizard and a pedophile prophet.

What in the world is a 'moderate muslim'? A f*****g hypocrite that's what!...

...With all due respect, Christians, you can shove that faith up your a**. Faith! Faith! I'd be damned at this retardation of humanity. F**k you, Christian sh***".

He pleaded guilty to the charges, and was sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment and a fine of $2,000. He was represented by counsel in both the 2015 and 2016 proceedings.

Yee had engaged in hate speech against Christians and Muslims.

The US adopts a different standard, and allows such hate speech under the rubric of freedom of speech.

The US, for example, in the name of freedom of speech, allows the burning of the Quran.

Singapore takes a very different approach. Anyone who engages in hate speech or attempts to burn the Quran, Bible, or any religious text in Singapore, will be arrested and charged.

The US Department of Homeland Security had opposed Yee's asylum application, on the basis that Yee had been legitimately prosecuted.

It is the prerogative of the US to take in such people who engage in hate speech. There are many more such people, around the world, who deliberately engage in hate speech, and who may be prosecuted. Some of them will no doubt take note of the US approach, and consider applying for asylum in the US.















US judge grants Amos Yee's asylum request
Teenage blogger qualifies as political refugee; US government has 30 days to file an appeal
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 26 Mar 2017

Singaporean blogger Amos Yee, who was jailed twice here for hate speech, has been granted asylum in the United States.

Despite opposition from the US Department of Homeland Security, an immigration judge in Chicago decided that he had been persecuted for his political opinions in Singapore and qualifies as a political refugee. Unless the US government appeals, the 18-year-old will be able to live and work in America.

Judge Samuel Cole on Friday said that Mr Yee's "prosecution, detention and general maltreatment at the hands of the Singapore authorities constitute persecution on account of Yee's political opinions" and called him a "young political dissident".

Yesterday, Singapore responded to the judge's decision with a statement which stated the obscenity-laden quotes that Mr Yee disseminated and got into trouble for with the law.

The statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs added that the US adopts a different standard from Singapore towards hate speech.

The US "allows such hate speech under the rubric of freedom of speech. The US, for example, in the name of freedom of speech, allows the burning of the Quran". Singapore, said the MHA, takes a very different approach.

"Anyone who engages in hate speech or attempts to burn the Quran, Bible, or any religious text in Singapore, will be arrested and charged."



Held in US immigration detention since Dec 16 last year, when he arrived at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport seeking political asylum, the judge's decision means Mr Yee is immediately eligible to go free, according to his lawyer, Ms Sandra Grossman.

He is currently being held at the Dodge County Detention Facility in Juneau, Wisconsin.

She said that she was told by the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office that he will be transferred to an ICE detention facility in Chicago tomorrow and will be considered for release, reported Agence France-Presse.

The decision is the latest twist in Mr Yee's saga.

In 2015, he was convicted on charges of insulting a religious group over comments that he made about Christians, and transmitting an obscene image of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

He was sentenced to four weeks in jail, but he served 50 days after repeatedly breaching bail conditions.

In September last year, he pleaded guilty to six charges of deliberately posting comments on the Internet - in videos and blog posts - that were derogatory of Christianity and Islam. He was sentenced to six weeks in jail.

When he fled to the US, he first said he regretted his actions in Singapore, before complaining about conditions there, and getting into trouble.

On Dec 30, he told Reuters that the videos he filmed insulting Singapore's late prime minister and various religions were in bad taste. "I told you, it is hate speech, it is overly rude, it isn't good activism," Mr Yee said by telephone. "I completely regret making those videos."

As he continued to be kept in detention, he went on Facebook to remonstrate about the "awful" and "absurd" immigration policies in the US, adding that the court was taking too long to decide on his application.

Mr Yee, who was helped by US-based Singaporean human rights activist Melissa Chen, also said that he risked "languishing" in remand in the US longer than the 50 days he was jailed in Singapore, and called for activists and his supporters to push for his release.

On Feb 25, Mr Yee's mother, Mrs Mary Toh, posted on Facebook that he had been put in solitary confinement for 14 days for "criticising Islam in Muslim Studies" in the US. She also accused the sergeant of the county jail of keeping Mr Yee locked up longer than he should, and asked people to spread the news.

The case has generated international attention, with newspapers around the world carrying reports about its twists and turns.

In his 13-page opinion, Judge Cole wrote: "The evidence presented at the hearing demonstrates Singapore's prosecution of Yee was a pretext to silence his political opinions critical of the Singapore Government."

The Department of Homeland Security had opposed Mr Yee's asylum application, saying that the Singapore Government legitimately prosecuted Mr Yee under laws of general applicability, which are neutral towards speech or religion.

It has 30 days - until April 24 - to file an appeal against the ruling. If the US government fails to appeal, the decision will become final.

Ms Grossman said yesterday that the judge's decision supported the right of individuals to criticise their governments.

"The right to free speech is sacred, even when such speech is considered offensive," she said in an e-mail sent to Reuters. "The decision timely underscores the vital need for an independent judiciary in a functioning democracy."









WHAT HAPPENED

March 31, 2015

Blogger Amos Yee Pang Sang, then 16, is charged over the posting of an expletive-laden video clip containing offensive remarks against Christianity and an obscene image of the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew with the late former British premier Margaret Thatcher.

May 12, 2015

A district judge convicts him of the two charges and he is offered bail while being assessed for probation.

June 2, 2015

He is taken into remand to assess his suitability for reformative training.

July 6, 2015

He is jailed for four weeks, with the sentence backdated, and he is released on the same day.

May 26, 2016

The teenager is charged in court for posting five videos and a photo, some of which show him insulting the Bible and Quran. He is also charged with failing to report to the Jurong Police Division for investigations.

Sept 29, 2016

He is sentenced to six weeks' jail and fined $2,000 after pleading guilty to eight charges.

Dec 16, 2017

He arrives in Chicago in his bid for political asylum in the US, and is detained.

March 7, 2017

A US Immigration Court hears his application.

March 24, 2017

US Immigration Judge Samuel Cole grants him asylum.










Law society disagrees with findings of US judge

The Law Society of Singapore (the Society) disagrees with the findings about Singapore's criminal justice system by US judge Samuel Cole, in allowing asylum for Mr Amos Yee in the United States (US judge grants Amos Yee's asylum request; March 26).

We note the 30-day period for the US Department of Homeland Security to appeal against the immigration judge's ruling.

The Society will consider issuing a fuller statement after an appeal is made, or the appeal period is spent.

The judge's opinion in the judgment appears to gloss over the critical fact that Mr Yee was lawfully prosecuted in a court of law.

In his 2016 prosecution, he pleaded guilty to charges of wounding the religious feelings of Christians and Muslims.

He was ultimately convicted, and sentenced, by competent courts in Singapore for criminal offences.

At all times, Mr Yee had been legally represented and was afforded all due process in law.

Allowing immunity for hate speech only encourages the undermining of values in a functional democracy.

That may be the new normal elsewhere. But law and order in Singapore trumps any individual's desire to shoot his mouth off with social virulence and venom.

Gregory Vijayendran
President
The Law Society of Singapore
ST Forum, 28 Mar 2017










Outrageous to say that Amos Yee was persecuted

The Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore (ACLS) is outraged by the assertion that Mr Amos Yee was persecuted by the Singapore Government, and the consequent impugning of our criminal justice system in the American courts.

Singaporeans jealously guard the multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious harmony that we have.

When antisocial miscreants share their views with a view to incite hate, we fully back the efforts of the Attorney-General's Chambers to prosecute and hopefully rehabilitate such individuals.

From our perspective, a finding that Mr Yee was persecuted is baseless and unwarranted.

Due process was followed and arguably considerable latitude was given to Mr Yee during his judicial hearings.

We recall that Mr Yee essentially rejected the chance of probation (a non-custodial sentence) during his first sentencing hearing, despite being ably represented at the time.

However, the fact remains that Singapore criminalises hate speech and the ACLS fully supports such a position in law. Other jurisdictions may take differing approaches and we think it best to agree to disagree with such jurisdictions.

Our social peace is too precious to sacrifice on the altar of unbridled free speech.

Make no mistake; there were multiple instances of hate speech. Characterising what Mr Yee said as political speech or his political opinion misses the point.

Hate is hate, however you cloak it, and we firmly believe that Singaporeans reject the politics of hate.


If America wants this misguided recalcitrant, it can have him.

But if Mr Yee wants to live in Singapore, all he has to do is abandon his hate or simply keep it to himself.

Sunil Sudheesan
President
Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore
ST Forum, 28 Mar 2017










Amos Yee prosecuted for hate speech, not political dissent: Singapore's High Commissioner in London rebuts The Economist
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2017

Blogger Amos Yee was prosecuted for making vicious statements about Christians and Muslims, and not for political dissent as The Economist implied, said the High Commissioner for Singapore in London, Ms Foo Chi Hsia.

She was responding to an article published in the newspaper, "No place for the crass", on April 1, about Yee's recent successful application for asylum in the United States.

A Chicago immigration judge had granted Yee asylum after ruling in a 13-page decision that Yee was persecuted for his political opinion when he was charged in Singapore in 2015 and 2016.

The US Department of Homeland Security had opposed Yee's asylum application, on the basis that Yee had been legitimately prosecuted.

The Economist article, commenting on the episode said: "Immigration judges often grant asylum with a simple, spoken ruling. This one explained himself over 13 pages."

It also suggested, quoting the judge, that the public outrage over the 18-year-old's comments had mostly focused on his criticism of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The article described Yee's online posts as "a profanity-laced video...calling Lee 'a horrible person', an 'awful leader' and a 'dictator'.

It added that Yee had only mocked Christianity in "small part", around 30 seconds, of the 519-seconds long video.



Ms Foo, in a letter published in The Economist on April 12, said these assertions were not true, adding that Yee had disparaged Christians and Muslims in his online posts.

Citing examples, she said: "In 2015, Mr Yee insulted Christians, saying Jesus Christ was 'power hungry and malicious' and 'full of bull'.

In 2016, he said: 'the Islamics seem to have lots of sand in their vaginas…But don't mind them, they do after all follow a sky wizard and a paedophile prophet. What in the world is a 'moderate Muslim'? A fucking hypocrite, that's what!'"

"The Economist may agree with the American judge that such bigotry is free speech. But Singapore does not countenance hate speech, because we have learnt from bitter experience how fragile our racial and religious harmony is. Several people have been prosecuted for engaging in such hate speech," she added.

The Ministry of Home Affairs, in a statement last month, had said it is the prerogative of the United States to take in people who engage in hate speech.

The US, said the MHA, adopts a different standard from Singapore towards hate speech. "It allows some hate speech under the rubric of freedom of speech. The US for example, in the name of freedom of speech, allows the burning of the Quran."

The Economist article had called the MHA statement a "huffy response".

The Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore, citing the US judge's ruling, said last month that its members were "outraged" by the judge's "baseless and unwarranted" findings.

Citing this, The Economist said: "Saying such things about a ruling of a Singaporean court, ironically, could put the speaker at risk of prosecution for contempt."

Ms Foo said that contrary to the suggestion, Singapore's laws on contempt do not prevent fair criticisms of court judgments.

She added that The Economist article itself demonstrates this.

"Singapore's court judgments, including Mr Yee's case, are reasoned and published, and can stand scrutiny by anyone, including The Economist," she said.

Yee was charged and convicted for engaging in hate speech against Christians in 2015.

He was also convicted on another charge for publishing an obscene image. He was sentenced to a total of four weeks imprisonment for these charges.

In 2016, Yee was charged again for hate speech, this time against Muslims and Christians.

He pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to six weeks imprisonment and a fine of $2,000.

Both times, he was represented by counsel.











More firms pulling ads from Google and YouTube over hate speech
Many seem wary of Google's pledge to curb ads from appearing with offensive videos
The Sunday Times, 26 Mar 2017

NEW YORK • More big companies - PepsiCo, Walmart and Starbucks - are yanking advertisements on YouTube, reflecting their lack of confidence in Google's promise to prevent their marketing campaigns from appearing with vile videos.

The suspensions, confirmed by the companies last Friday, came after the Wall Street Journal reported their brands were placed by Google's automated programs on videos containing racist content.

In addition to the YouTube suspensions, Walmart, PepsiCo and several other firms also said they would stop buying ads placed by Google on more than two million other third-party websites, according to the Associated Press.

The controversy erupted earlier this month after London-based Times newspaper reported that some ads were running with YouTube videos that promoted terrorism or anti-Semitism.

The revelation drove the British government and The Guardian newspaper to take down their ads from the video site.



The boycott subsequently spread like wildfire across the Atlantic, as major advertisers in the United States - including wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon Communications - announced they would stop spending on YouTube.

The snub would potentially cost Google, which in 2006 announced its acquisition of the popular video-sharing platform for US$1.65 billion, and YouTube hundreds of millions of dollars in lost business. Last week, US$26 billion (S$36.4 billion) was knocked off parent company Alphabet Inc's market value.

Google attempted to curb the controversy last Monday, pledging publicly to roll out new controls for marketers.

In a memo sent to partners later in the week, the Internet search leader described more detailed changes, including a new video verification process, long sought by advertisers, and a staff hotline dedicated to brand safety.

Another feature Google promised will use machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence, to flag suspect videos. The new approach would now yank ads if offensive language appeared on a T-shirt in a video, for instance, something that did not happen before, according to the memo.



Google aims to implement most of the changes by today, according to the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. A Google spokesman declined to comment on Friday.

Even if the company meets that deadline, it may struggle to solve the issue.

While television companies have almost total control over what appears on a given channel, creating a safe space for brands, YouTube opens itself up to anyone who wants to post a video.

Advertisers often buy ads across the whole site, or large groups of popular videos, instead of buying ads for a specific channel. The company has safeguards to block offensive content, but the volume of video being uploaded is too great to identify every infringing video.

YouTube warned as much in its memo. Forthcoming changes "should give (advertisers) confidence that their ads will not appear against inappropriate content", the memo read, "albeit with the volume of content involved, this can never be 100 per cent guaranteed".

Mr Paul Verna, an analyst with EMarketer, thinks "what they have done clearly is not enough".

"They must sit down with advertisers and literally show them how they are changing these algorithms," he said.




























Related
MHA's Comments on Amos Yee's US Asylum Application -25 Mar 2017

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