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Singapore Blogger Convicted for ‘Obscene’ Image Featuring the Late Lee Kuan Yew

There’s no doubt that Amos Yee’s depiction of Singapore’s late founder Lee Kuan Yew in carnal embrace with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is somewhat lewd. The Singaporean teenager’s creation, which pastes Lee and Thatcher’s faces onto a women’s health website’s line drawing of what might be called an energetic sex position, falls far ...

amosyee

There’s no doubt that Amos Yee’s depiction of Singapore’s late founder Lee Kuan Yew in carnal embrace with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is somewhat lewd. The Singaporean teenager’s creation, which pastes Lee and Thatcher’s faces onto a women’s health website’s line drawing of what might be called an energetic sex position, falls far outside of usual Singaporean political discourse, which is hemmed in by severe sedition, defamation, and obscenity laws.

On Tuesday, a Singaporean court convicted Yee on obscenity charges related to that drawing and a series of statements that the court deemed offensive to Christians. Yee is now on probation and will be subject to a sentencing hearing in June. He still could face three years in prison.

A closing statement filed by Yee’s lawyers argued that the dirty Lee-Thatcher picture “is not a pornographic image, either calculated to (or in fact tending to) arouse the Likely Viewers of the Image or turn them toward trying this particular sex position.”

After Lee’s death in March, Singapore entered a period of national mourning that the 16-year-old Yee challenged with a gleeful video published four days after the former premier’s death. In the video, titled “Lee Kuan Yew Is Finally Dead!” Yee compares the dead leader to Jesus and says both men were “power-hungry and malicious but deceive others into thinking that they are compassionate and kind.”

On Monday, Judge Jasvender Kaur said Yee’s online activities should meet the “strongest possible disapproval and condemnation.” But due to his young age, he will be released on probation for $7,500 in bail on the condition that he take down his offending posts.

Yee’s case has emerged as a symbol of Singapore’s harsh restrictions on freedom of speech, but in his home country, Yee remains a controversial figure whom many Singaporeans believe deserves punishment.

On Monday, a Singaporean court sentenced Neo Gim Huah, a 49-year-old man offended by Yee’s pranks, to three weeks in jail after he slapped the teenager at one of his court appearances.

Others think the foul-mouthed teenager with the scratchy voice has captured something fundamental – and troubling – about Singaporean culture’s hive-mindedness and narrow ideas of what’s acceptable.

After his conviction, Yee told reporters that he was “conflicted.” “I don’t know if I should celebrate my release or mourn my sentence,” he said.

ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Justine Drennan was a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously reported from Cambodia for the Associated Press and other outlets. Twitter: @jkdrennan
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