Looking at Singaporean blogger Amos Yee, he looks like a typical shaggy-haired teenager, but at just 16 years old, Yee is using his blog to mount a challenge to Singapore’s restrictive laws regarding free speech, a move that, for Singapore’s leaders, pushes the envelope too far and makes Yee a political dissident, a radical in a country with a history of suppressing its citizens’ freedom of speech.
In Singapore, Yee has become known for his searing video blogs that take Singapore’s leaders to task, but earlier this year, Yee’s blog landed him in prison for 53 days. In an attempt to stymie his work, Singapore’s judicial system convicted Yee of obscenity and “wounding of religious feelings.”
Yee’s video blogs are absolutely scathing and defiant but also humorous, making them subversive on various levels. His videos are relatively simple, focusing on his message and inflammatory rhetoric. Yee refuses to bow to anyone, including Singapore’s late founder Lee Kuan Yew, a revered figure in Singapore, or his followers. In response to Yew’s death and the memorials commemorating his passing, Yee wonders why Singaporeans respect Yew, and Yee has an incredibly unapologetic opening line for his “Amos Yee – Lee Kuan Yew Is Finally Dead!”: “Lee Kuan Yew is dead. Finally! Why hasn’t anyone said, ‘Fuck yeah! The guy is dead!’?”
Later in the video, Yee goes as far to draw parallels between Yew and Jesus Christ, arguing that, eventually, people will see that both Yew and Jesus were actually “power-hungry and malicious” and not, as they and their followers would have you believe, gentle and kind.
Since his release from jail, Yee has continued to critique his government and Yew, unafraid of enduring more time behind bars. In an interview with CNN’s Paula Newton, Yee explains that he had “a sense” that he would get into trouble as a result of his viral rants, but he explains his speaking out was worth the risk.
In the same interview, Yee speaks plainly about his fear that he may, once again, be detained for speaking out against his government, but that fear isn’t stopping him. Though he seems too humble to talk about his tremendous courage, it’s obvious that for a teenager to continue to defy his government’s censorship of freedom of expression, even after enduring incarceration, he must be extraordinarily brave.
As Yee’s story gains traction around the world, Singapore’s government is coming under heavy scrutiny from abroad. According to the 2015 World Press Freedom Index, a freedom of information watchdog, Singapore ranks at 153 out of 179 countries for press freedom, coming in between the Russian Federation and Libya.
Yee’s not the only Singaporean speaking out against the government. In 2014, Steph Micayle, a talented musician with a sizable following on YouTube, made two videos entitled “Why I am not proud to be Singaporean.”
Check out Amos Yee’s YouTube Channel here.
Writer. Editor. Teacher. Thinker. Follow Justin on Twitter @jstnmm.