SINGAPORE: A Singaporean teenager who attacked the city-state’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew in a video and blog was convicted on two criminal charges Tuesday but was freed on bail and is unlikely to spend time in jail.
In a case seen by critics as a move to muzzle criticism of the government, 16-year-old Amos Yee was found to have hurt religious feelings in a video likening Lee to Jesus and posting an obscene cartoon in a blog.
He had pleaded not guilty to both charges, which related to a graphic image of Lee and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher that the teenager posted on his blog, and a video rant which he uploaded after the death of Singapore’s patriarch on March 23.
In the eight-minute monologue titled “Lee Kuan Yew is finally dead”, Yee described Lee as a “horrible person” and compared him with Jesus, saying “they are both power-hungry and malicious but deceive others into thinking they are compassionate and kind”.
“I am satisfied that the ingredients of the charge have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt and the accused is accordingly found guilty and convicted,” district judge Jasvender Kaur said in her written verdict.
Although both charges provide for jail terms and fines, state prosecutors told the judge that imprisonment or a fine would not be suitable, describing Yee as a “misguided young man” who needed counseling and “appropriate probation”.
The judge directed a probation officer to submit a report to the court on June 2 after which she would issue a sentence. She also ordered Yee released on a bail of Sg$10,000 ($7,500).
“I don’t know if I should celebrate my release or mourn my sentence,” the teenager, wearing a navy-blue T-shirt and grey pants, told reporters.
Speaking to AFP, Yee said he would take down his blog post and video.
“Of course, I have been deemed guilty already,” he said as he left the courthouse.
Earlier at Tuesday’s hearing, Yee was handcuffed and shackled at his ankles. He was wearing standard prison garb of brown long pants and a white shirt with the marking “Prisoner” at the back and looked relaxed as the judge read the verdict.
Yee’s case gained national attention with some activists and critics of the long-ruling People’s Action Party, which Lee co-founded, portraying the teenager as a victim of the government’s tough censorship rules.
About 100 supporters and civil rights activists gathered a Monday night calling for Yee’s acquittal.
Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch, slammed Yee’s conviction.
“The reality is convicting Amos Yee was all about publicly punishing a youthful dissident who dared besmirch the image of the recently passed leader, and intimidating anyone else who might think of doing the same in the future,” he said in a statement.
Others however have taken to social media to chastise Yee for his apparent irreverence for Christianity and for Lee, widely seen as the architect of Singapore’s rapid rise to one of Asia’s richest and most stable societies.