Jailed in Singapore For Criticizing a Former Prime Minister, But Still Blogging

From the Facebook page of Amos Yee

Photo: Amos Yee / Facebook.

When 16-year-old Amos Yee posted a video last March criticizing Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding prime minister, Yee apparently offended the wrong people online, leading to criminal charges that could put him in prison for up to three years, if he is convicted.

During his hearing last month, a judge ordered him to be remanded for three weeks to assess if he’s suitable for reformative training. Last week, he was transferred from Changi Prison to the Institute of Mental Health, where he will stay for another week, after the judge ordered Yee to be evaluated for autism.

Despite Yee's incarceration, his Facebook page is still being updated. Some believe the teenager is able to do this by scheduling his posts, while others suspect his friends or relatives of adding new content. The page recently attracted renewed attention with posts containing what appear to be Yee's reflections about his time in prison.

In the following excerpt, for instance, Yee apparently writes about the frustration of prison life:

Cellmates, often thinking about the implications of them being in jail, or getting frustrated by the tedium of being in a cell, become enraged and hyperactive.

In a state of restlessness and anxiety, they start singing high-pitched songs, punching the walls, banging their cups and boxes.

The unrelenting sounds send me into a deep state of nervousness and apprehension.

Because of the order to remand him, many supporters of Yee consider him to be one of the youngest “prisoners of conscience” in the world.

On Yee's Facebook page, some notes have appeared that even look to William Shakespeare for inspiration:

In prison, my cell mates would become so bored that they became immensely excited when they saw a little fly, hovering above them.

They then used the plastic box that we put our soap in and captured the fly inside it. And with the fascination of a child, they would gawk at its movement and observe its behavior.

Soon, they would suddenly become woeful, and slip into a melancholic speech that could potentially rival that of Shakespeare’s ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ soliloquy, saying something along the lines of:

‘The fly is trapped, just like us.
We have trapped someone innocent, just like the Government did to us.
What have we become?’

Yee's Facebook page contains other observations about life behind bars, as well:

There is barely any sense of time in prison, there are no clocks in cells. Our only indications of time is the little light that seeps out from the vent. And everyday my cellmates would eagerly wait for that light to dissipate, knowing that another day has passed, and they’re one day closer to attaining their freedom.

While Yee's comments about the late Lee Kuan Yew were far from popular, the justice system's decision to treat the 16-year-old so harshly for thinking differently has also provoked disagreement. At one of his appearances in court, Yee was even slapped across the face by a man in front of a room of journalists, who did not intervene:

Hi you remember the guy who hit me in the face? Yeah I know he’s bad and all that. But I would like to bring your attention to the reporters who witnessed the incident.

None of them came up to help, none of them put their cameras down and tried to catch the assailant, they just continued taking pictures trying to get that best shot for tomorrow’s headlines.

Yee’s mother, Mary Toh, has also written about her son's troubles:

Amos has always been a chirpy, confident and very vocal child. He is also very creative, and would spend an endless amount of time on something which he sets his mind on.

But my son is a different person now.

Since his arrest in March and the many twists and turns in the court case, Amos is now exhausted, and yes, frightened.

I wondered why my son, who is here to be assessed if he has autism, is kept here in the same block as those who are mentally ill.

He has been so tired in Changi Prison where he is kept in a cell for 23 hours everyday, with the bright lights kept switched on most of the time, for the past three weeks.

It was impossible for him to sleep.

Human Rights Watch is one of many advocacy groups around the world now demanding Yee's release, calling attention to the fact that he's being treated the same as violent offenders, despite the peaceful nature of his supposed crime:

…by the time he was convicted, Yee had spent 18 days in jail for a nonviolent offense. When brought to court for his trial on May 7, he was handcuffed, had his legs shackled, and was wearing a prison-supplied t-shirt with “prisoner” emblazoned across the back.

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