A blogger from Singapore who was jailed for his online posts blasting the Singaporean government was granted asylum to remain in the US, an immigration judge ruled.
Amos Yee (余澎杉), 18, has been detained by US federal immigration authorities since December last year when he was taken into custody at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
Attorneys said he could be released from a Wisconsin detention center as early as tomorrow.
Judge Samuel Cole issued a 13-page decision on Friday, more than two weeks after Yee’s closed-door hearing on the asylum application.
“Yee has met his burden of showing that he suffered past persecution on account of his political opinion and has a well-founded fear of future persecution in Singapore,” Cole wrote.
Yee left Singapore with the intention of seeking asylum in the US after being jailed for several weeks in 2015 and last year. He was accused of hurting the religious feelings of Muslims and Christians in the multi-ethnic city-state. Yee is an atheist.
Many of his blog and social media posts criticized Singapore’s leaders. He created controversy in 2015 as Singapore was mourning the death of its first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀), and he posted an expletive-laden video about Yew just after his death.
Such open criticism of political leaders is discouraged in Singapore. The case raised questions about free speech and censorship and has been closely watched abroad.
Cole said testimony during Yee’s hearing showed that while the Singapore government’s stated reason for punishing him involved religion, “its real purpose was to stifle Yee’s political speech.”
He said Yee’s prison sentence was “unusually long and harsh” especially for his age.
“I think this is a major embarrassment for the government, that all along claimed Amos’ persecution was not political,” said Kenneth Jeyaretnam, an opposition politician who gave testimony supporting Yee’s asylum.
Jeyaretnam said the decision “may create waves in Singapore. It may show Singaporeans that there’s nothing to be afraid about. The Singapore government is a paper tiger. We don’t have to swallow the brainwashing that is constantly put out.”
Yee’s attorney Sandra Grossman said her client was elated.
“He’s very excited to begin new life in the United States,” Grossman said.
Yee said in a telephone interview from jail this month that he feared returning to Singapore, but he would continue to speak out and had already planned a line of T-shirts and started writing a book about his experiences.
“I have an infinite amount of ideas of what to do,” he said.
US Department of Homeland Security attorneys had opposed the asylum bid, saying Yee’s case did not qualify as persecution based on political beliefs. It was unclear whether they would appeal the decision or if Yee would have to remain imprisoned if they did. Attorneys have 30 days to appeal.
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