Singaporean blogger Amos Yee, 18, has been freed this morning (Sept 27) from his 10-month stint in US custody after an immigration appeals court upheld his bid for asylum.
Detained since Dec 16 last year, the teen fled Singapore saying he feared persecution for his political opinions regarding Singapore – a fear that a US immigration judge said was “well-founded”.
Previously jailed twice in Singapore, Yee fled the country for Chicago last December to seek political asylum in the US, one day before he was to report for a medical examination ahead of his enlistment into National Service.
In 2015, he was convicted and given a four-week jail sentence after engaging in hate speech against Christians in a YouTube video, and for publishing an obscene drawing of founding Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
In 2016, he was sentenced to six weeks’ imprisonment and slapped with a S$2000 ($1475) fine after posting comments online that were derogatory of Christianity and Islam.
On Wednesday, a photo was uploaded on his Facebook page with the caption “Amos Yee is now a free man!”. Photographed beside him was Adam Lowisz, who had been helping him with his asylum application.
Earlier this year in March, Chicago immigration judge Samuel Cole granted Yee asylum but his ruling was appealed in April by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The DHS argued that Judge Cole made errors of fact and law, saying the Singapore government legitimately prosecuted Yee, and that Yee’s asylum case did not qualify as persecution based on political beliefs.
Amos’s lawyer Sandra Grossman said on Tuesday (Sep 26) that the United States Board of Immigration Appeals had dismissed the DHS’s appeal and was in agreement with the immigration judge that Yee’s prosecution “was a pretext” to silence his political opinions.
The three-member Board also agreed with the judge that “the cumulative harm in this case rose to the level of persecution”, and that this “entitles the applicant to a presumption of a well-founded fear, that has not been rebutted”, according to a ST report.
With his asylum status, Yee will be eligible to apply for a green card in a year.
In a quote carried by Today, Yee said, fresh from his release: “I’m kind of stunned right now. It’s very surreal…(but) I’ll continue leading life as usual.”
It was also reported that he has “plans for more videos, much of it criticising the Singapore government.”
“I think maybe I might broaden my work to US politics too, since I’m here,” he added.
Speaking to The Straits Times over the phone in Chicago, Yee said: “The plan is to make more and more videos. I came here to escape the horrible anti-free speech laws in Singapore. Now I can get back to work, get back to my life,”
“I am thinking I’ll do the video thing and the Internet activism on Facebook and YouTube for as long as I’m satisfied.
“I don’t think I’ll be satisfied just being like a YouTuber even if I become like really famous. I also want to broaden my horizon in more collaborative and huge projects like film and video games,” he added.
“Maybe like a comedy show or a drama,” he continued. “I’m still very interested in making more political videos. I have many ideas for comedy.”