Amos Yee, a 17-year-old Singaporean blogger has been sentenced to six weeks in jail on Thursday for “wounding religious feelings”, his second prison term in a year, reigniting concerns about social controls and censorship in the conservative city-state.
Yee pleaded guilty to six charges of deliberately posting comments on the internet in videos, blog posts and a picture that were critical of Christianity and Islam.
Judge Ong Hian Sun told the district court that Yee’s actions could “generate social unrest” and should not be condoned.
Yee, who was accompanied by his mother, described the sentence as “very fair”.
“I am very remorseful,” he told reporters outside the court, surrounded by a handful of supporters.
His latest month-long trial was attended by officials from the United Nations Human Rights Council and the European Union, and was closely watched by rights groups.
“By prosecuting Amos Yee for his comments, no matter how outrageous they may have been, Singapore has unfortunately doubled down on a strategy that clearly violates freedom of expression,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Right Watch’s Asia division, said in an email.
“For a country that prides itself on efficiency, Singapore should re-examine its approach, because every time the authorities go after him, it just adds to his online audience who are interested to find out the latest thing,” he said.
Critics say Yee’s imprisonment may further deter freedom of expression in the Asian financial hub. Singapore’s parliament passed a controversial bill last month spelling out what constitutes contempt of court, drawing criticism from rights groups and foreign diplomats.
Amnesty International called on Singapore to “repeal or amend legal provisions that criminalise peaceful dissent and end the intimidation and harassment of bloggers and other critics”.
David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, said: “The lesson that somebody can be thrown in jail for their speech is exactly the wrong kind of message that any government should be sending to anybody, but especially to young people.”
The sentence comes the day before International Blasphemy Rights Day, designed to highlight the need for freedom of speech and the dangers to civil society of laws prohibiting the criticism of religion.