A 16-year-old's viral rant attacking Christians and the founding father of modern Singapore has made its way to court, and he is facing jail time. On Tuesday, Singapore teenager Amos Yee was charged for insulting Lee Kuan Yew in an expletive-filled YouTube video that racked hundreds of thousands of views before it was taken down. The video sparked outrage among Singaporeans, who have largely mourned Lee's death. Yee's charges, however, have also prompted criticism from the international community on the Southeast Asian country's strict censorship laws.
Yee was charged with three counts: "deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person," harassment, and distributing obscene material. He faces three years in jail if found guilty of intentionally hurting religious feelings. The harassment charge can lead to a fine of around $3,600. Yee reportedly smirked in court while the alleged offenses were read to him. Al Jazeera also reported that Yee smiled and waved to reporters while he left the court building with his parents.
The eight-minute YouTube video, entitled "Lee Kuan Yew is finally dead," shows an enthused Yee celebrating the death of Lee. During the rant, he calls Lee a "horrible person" and compares the late statesman to Jesus, both of whom he describes as "power-hungry and malicious." The video has since been taken down from Yee's YouTube account, but copies have resurfaced on other social media outlets.
Though highly advanced and extremely plugged into the Internet, Singapore is known for its strict censorship laws. The country argues that some censorship of political, racial, and religious issues is necessary in order to maintain balance and peace within its population. In 2013, a new regulation went into effect that prevents news sites and blogs from posting content that "undermines racial or religious harmony." Authorities can require sites to take down offensive content within 24 hours of notification.
The Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement defending Yee's right to express his thoughts on Lee. Bob Dietz, the organization's Asia program coordinator, said:
The arrest of a young blogger for comments made in a video highlights the restrictive environment in which Singaporean journalists are forced to work. We call on authorities to release Amos Yee immediately and to undertake reform of Singapore's outdated laws restricting the media.
I watched Yee's video rant, and yes, there are far more exemplary banners for freedom of press advocates to rally behind. But three years in jail is an extreme response to one whiny kid's rant on YouTube. Sure, it might be one video now, but just watch how quickly that wave of censorship can spread.
Image: Getty Images (1)