After uploading a video criticising the late leader, Amos Yee found out what freedom really looks like in Singapore
Published on Independent Voices on 31 March 2015.
While Singapore mourned the death of its founding father, there was one teenager who wasn’t so upset. “Lee Kuan Yew is dead, finally,” proclaimed 16-year-old Amos Yee. “Why has hasn’t anyone said, ‘f**k yeah, the guy is dead’?”
In a YouTube video uploaded last Friday, the Singaporean teenager criticised Lee Kuan Yew (also known as LKY), who ruled the country for over three decades and passed away last week at the age of 91, and called him “a horrible person”.
On his personal website, Amos also uploaded an amateur drawingof LKY having sex with Margaret Thatcher, who was one of his many admirers. “I encourage more fellow Singaporeans who have any artistic abilities [to do the same],” he wrote.
But Amos soon found out what freedom of expression looks like in Singapore. After at least 20 police complaints were made, his video was removed, his website censored and he was arrested.
He has now been released on bail (which was set at £9,800), but is facing multiple criminal charges, including “wounding religious feelings” by describing Jesus and LKY as both “power hungry and malicious”. He faces a fine and up to three years in jail if found guilty.
While the world has indulged itself with endless eulogies to LKY over the last week, Amos’s disappearance has been brushed aside. Leaders of the so-called “free world” found neither words nor time for an unknown teenager who, according to a state-controlled newspaper, “made insensitive remarks”.
No-one can deny that LKY was a unique statesman who that took Singapore “from Third World to First,” to borrow a phrase from his book. He stood between international giants like the US and China, yet Singapore under his stewardship had always punched above its weight, winning LKY admirers from Beijing to Washington.
However, as Amos points out in his video, one of LKY’s “biggest flaws” was that he “honestly thought that money and status equated to happiness”. He led Singapore “to be one of the richest countries in the world – and one of the most depressed.”
Amos is not alone in his grievances with LKY. Just over a year ago, another YouTuber called Steph Micayle uploaded a video called“Why I’m not proud to be Singaporean”. In it, she criticised the country’s strict censorship laws, and called its people “small minded and submissive”, before vowing to leave the country and never return. Many people shared her sentiments, and her video. But it’s only now with Amos Yee that the world is able to see just how far Singapore is willing to go in its quest to silence its critics.
Many hailed LKY’s transformation of Singapore as a miracle. But would really be miraculous is if they stop threatening 16-year-old vloggers like Amos Yee with jail. That would be a start. And then, once they’ve realised they have nothing to fear, maybe they can build a country where prosperity and freedom go hand-in-hand, and aren’t seen as being mutually exclusive.