UNFREE SPEECH

A 17-year-old was just arrested by Singapore police for calling Lee Kuan Yew a “horrible person”

Last Friday, on March 27, Amos Yee uploaded to YouTube a video entitled “Lee Kuan Yew Is Finally Dead!” in which he railed against Singapore’s former strongman, who had died four days earlier.

The video went viral, reportedly drawing more than 680,000 views within two days. Police swiftly arrested the Singaporean teen on March 29. Though Yee’s video has since been made private, the clip has been uploaded by other YouTube users:

In his rant, Yee condemns Lee for instilling fear into Singaporeans and challenges Lee Hsien Loong, current prime minister and son of the late Lee Kuan Yew, to sue him.

“Everyone is afraid if they say something like that, they might get into trouble…which, give Lee Kuan Yew credit, that was primarily the impact of his legacy,” says the teen, according to The Independent. “But I’m not afraid,” adds Yee—an ironic twist given his arrest.

He also compares Lee with Jesus Christ. (A glance at the topics on Yee’s video blog reveals that Christianity is a particular bugbear). Both have deceived others into believing them to be “compassionate and kind,” he says, even though they’re actually “power-hungry and malicious.”

Though Singapore grew to become one of Asia’s main centers of trade and finance under Lee Kuan Yew, the leader also kept a tight rein on civil and political freedoms—including freedom of speech and assembly. For instance, the Sedition Act, a holdover from the colonial period, bans any materials with “seditious tendencies.” The younger Lee has continued to brandish the threat of legal action to keep media criticism in check, says the NGO Freedom House, which deems Singapore only “partly free.”

It’s not clear what Yee has been charged with. At least 20 police reports had been lodged against the teen in response to his video tirade, notes The Straits Times. A lawyer who filed the first complaint noted that numerous things Yee said about Lee and the Singapore government are defamatory under the penal code and violate the sedition act, reports The Guardian.

“There is a limit to freedom of speech. If the line separating freedom and offense is crossed, the person will have to face the consequences,” said lawyer Chia Boon Teck, who added that Yee’s remarks about Jesus Christ also amount to a “deliberate intent to wound religious feeling,” banned in the penal code.

Whether they agree with Yee’s criticisms of these policies or not, Singaporeans seem well aware of these looming threats to free speech. Many responded to Yee’s announcement of his video on his Twitter account by noting that he’s likely to be arrested (see here and here). However, other Singaporean social media users have shared their support for Yee.

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