In the days following the death of Singaporean founding father Lee Kuan Yew, he has been described as a pragmatic leader who transformed an East Asian backwater into a hub of commerce and a development miracle. What has gone less emphasized is that he did so by embracing a naked kind of authoritarianism.
Those values are now on stark display as authorities in Singapore crack down on expressions of dissent that deny its founding myth: the fundamental greatness of Lee Kuan Yew. On Sunday, police in Singapore arrested a teenager, Amos Yee, for a video he posted — and later removed — in which he harshly criticized the now-dead strongman.
“Lee Kuan Yew, contrary to popular belief, was a horrible person and an awful leader to our country,” Yee, whom media reports alternately describe 16 or 17, says in the video. “He was a dictator but managed to fool most of the world to think he was democratic.”
Yee’s video, a humorous confessional filmed in what appears to be different parts of an apartment, attempts to puncture the hagiography that has been built up around the late Singaporean leader. To make his case, Yee compares Lee to Jesus. “They are both power-hungry and malicious but deceive others into thinking that they are compassionate and kind,” Yee says. “Their impact and legacy will ultimately not last as more and more people find out that they are full of bull.”
This weekend, tens of thousands of Singaporeans lined up to bid farewell to Lee, who has been lying in state. As that period of mourning comes to an end, the arrest of Yee is a powerful reminder that the harsh political system that he put in place will outlive him. According to local media reports, Yee will be charged with “with deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person,” the circulation of an obscene object, and making “threatening, abusive or insulting communication.”
It is unclear what the obscene object in question is, but one now private page on Yee’s blog bears a URL describing the former Singaporean leader performing a specific, quite lewd sexual act on former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — a thought one wouldn’t want to visualize or that the Singaporean authorities would look too kindly upon.
Indeed, Yee argues in his video that Lee spent far too much time cultivating relationships with foreign leaders and that his efforts to develop Singapore led the country down a path of materialism and a work culture that has left its people deeply unhappy. “The biggest flaw of Lee Kuan Yew to our nation is that he honestly thought that money and status equated to happiness,” Yee says, citing statistics showing that Singaporeans both work extremely long hours and suffer high rates of depression. “So no matter how rich the country he made is or how many world leader ****s he sucked, it doesn’t mean a thing.”
Though he has made the video private on his own YouTube account, Yee’s video has been reuploaded and is available to view here. Warning: It contains a fair bit of profanity.