A teenage blogger awaiting a Chicago immigration judge’s ruling on his asylum request to stay in the United States said Friday that he’s afraid of returning home to Singapore, where he was jailed after posting scathing blog posts about the government.
Amos Yee, 18, has been detained in the U.S. since mid-December, when he was taken into custody at O’Hare International Airport. His closed-door immigration proceedings unfolded in a Chicago courtroom last Tuesday, with a judge saying he’ll decide within weeks.
“I’m most definitely fearful now that the Singapore government knows I am trying to escape to another country so I can continue to criticise them freely,” Yee told The Associated Press by phone from a Wisconsin detention center. “I’m really worried.”
Yee, an atheist, was jailed twice in Singapore on charges including hurting the religious feelings of Muslims and Christians. However, many of his posts on YouTube, a blog and social media berate Singapore’s government. He caused a stir in 2015 as the city-state was mourning the death of its first prime minister and he posted an explicative-laden and, at times, crude video about Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew just after his death.
Such open criticism of political leaders is frowned upon in Singapore. Yee’s case has drawn a lot of attention because he was imprisoned at age 16 alongside adults. Experts say the case, which is being watched closely abroad, raises questions about free speech and censorship, particularly online.
Singapore’s embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to requests seeking comment.
Yee said being jailed in Singapore was traumatising and left him with suicidal thoughts. He believes he’ll be targeted again if he returns. He had been planning on seeking asylum in the U.S. for weeks and had lined up a place to stay in Illinois. Singapore nationals don’t need a visa to visit the U.S., but Yee was taken into custody after immigration agents questioned him at O’Hare and he revealed his plans.
Yee has been outspoken from a young age and friends praise his intellect. He began blogging at age 12 and won a local filmmaking prize at age 13.
“I have the moral obligation to speak out against a tyrannical government that has been making the people in Singapore suffer,” he said. “Don’t ever become so fearful that you become silent.”
Yee’s attorneys in the U.S. have argued that he was persecuted based on laws restricting freedom of expression and he’s likely to be convicted again if he returns. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have urged U.S. officials to let him stay.
A spokesman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees U.S. immigration courts, declined to comment on the case. The Department of Homeland Security, which is contesting Yee’s asylum application, didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
Either way, Yee said he’ll continue to speak out if he returns home or gains legal permission to stay in the U.S. He’s already started writing a book and is considering work on movies and a T-shirt line.
“I have an infinite amount of ideas of what to do,” he said.