A Singapore court delivered a guilty verdict today against teenager Amos Yee on charges of “wounding religious feelings” and obscenity, after he posted a controversial YouTube video that assailed the city-state’s founding father.
The 16-year-old Yee posted the video “Lee Kuan Yew Is Finally Dead!” on Friday, March 27, less than a week after Singapore’s first prime minister passed away. In the profanity-laced video he criticized Lee, calling him “horrible” and a dictator. He also spoke negatively about organized Christianity, describing Christians as “power-hungry.”
Singapore authorities arrested the teenager the following Monday, charging him under a part of the law that criminalizes “uttering words” with the deliberate intention of wounding religious or racial feelings. He was also charged under another section of the statute with circulating an obscene image of Lee.
Yee challenged the charges, and his two-day trial concluded May 8, with a verdict reached today. He has yet to be sentenced, and could face up to three years in prison, but prosecutors suggested they would seek a sentence of probation and counseling instead.
“His actions are far from being ‘noble’ or imbued with good intentions. It was a calculated course of conduct undertaken for the sake of publicity and without regard to the damaging effects on the community,” said deputy public prosecutor Hay Hung Chun.
The case drew significant attention both inside and outside the city-state, with the video gaining more than a million views on YouTube. Singapore, which for decades has tightly controlled the media, is struggling to define what’s permitted in a time when anyone with an Internet connection can be a publisher or broadcaster.
Many in Singapore, where Lee is widely revered, were offended by the video. One such man, Neo Gim Huah, took matters into his hands (or rather hand) when he slapped Lee across the face as the teenager walked to a court hearing on April 29. On May 11, a Singapore court sentenced Neo to three weeks in prison, saying it could not condone vigilante justice.