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#FreeAmosYee - Atheist Imprisoned in Singapore

Updated on May 28, 2016
Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull writes articles on topics such as religion and skepticism - original poetry and short-stories - and film/tv/book/game reviews.


Who is Amos Yee?

Amos is a young man from Singapore who makes youtube videos. In Singapore there are apparently limits placed on the speech of citizens which causes certain insults against certain religions and religious figures illegal. Also illegal are apparently certain depictions/insults against authority figures in Singapore.

Amos already served jail time at an earlier date for his insults and criticisms against religion and Islam. Now, due to videos he released after he was let out of prison, he is in danger of jail time again.

Free Speech - Why Should YOU Care?

Amos may seem like a smart mouth punk kid but that is irrelevant. If you are like me you believe that freedom of speech includes mocking, insulting and criticizing religion and you also believe that Free Speech is a universal human right. Yet in modern times freedom of speech is under attack due to the rise of the idea of "hate speech" continually broadening to make all manner of speech tantamount to a "hate crime".

Curtailing freedoms in this way may seem a far way off from the United States but for this kid it is an everyday reality he lives with. Simply for standing up against the authority and insane social norms of his society Amos receives death threats from all the "peaceful" Muslims of Singapore. You can check the comments section of his videos, while support for him is beginning to show up previously he was being verbally attacked and threatened with death merely for speaking his mind.

His videos may be extremely hyperbolic and even insulting but I believe he has every right to make them and that inadvertently this badmouth teen kid may help change Singapore's laws to allow more freedom - but only if enough attention can be brought to his case. If you care about free speech and the ability to criticize and even mock authority and religious institutions and ideas I implore you to do what you can and share the story of Amos Yee.

Even if You Disagree with his Methods

Even if you disagree with what he has to say or the way he has to say it Amos Yee faces the threat of imprisonment on top of all the death threats he has received as a result of insulting the "peaceful" religion of Islam. While we often take freedom of speech for granted here in the United States there are places in the world where criticizing religion can and will get your imprisoned or murdered.

Bangladesh has seen multiple atheist bloggers hacked to death with machetes by enraged extremists over the last few years simply for speaking their minds.

However empty this teens rebellion might seem to some I believe it is important that the young generation stand up and leave religion behind - and indeed polls increasingly show that this is happening. The non-religious are the fastest growing category in the world and the internet has no doubt played a massive part in weakening the stranglehold that superstition and organized religion have long had on human thought.

If you believe in free speech please share this story!

Hate Speech vs The Freedom to Offend

I firmly believe in the freedom to offend as part of free speech. I don't think that religious ideas should be given a get-out-of-criticism-free card just because people hold their beliefs strongly or feel attached to them. It is a dangerous thing when ideas become so intermingled with our identities that we would compromise important principles like Free Speech to protect the feelings of others.

What do I mean?

Well for most people "Hate Speech" would constitute speech that encourages violence or discrimination against a group or groups of people. For example if Amos Yee were saying that Muslims and Christians should be rounded up into camps and shot we might make a case for hate speech even here in the USA. And yet even in Western democracies ideas like this get batted around without consequence all the time, whether it's a southern pastor saying he would round up all the gays if he could or a prominent feminist saying we should put all men into internment camps.

We still have preachers in America implying that gays should be stoned and yet we generally don't track them down and prosecute them. WHY IS THAT?

Well because of free speech of course. Because we understand that while what they're saying is outrageous, offensive, even perhaps hateful, they don't have the power or influence to sway the authorities into following their insanely inhumane plans - and certainly can't carry them out themselves! We understand hyperbole, thought experiments and implausible fantasizing and we look the other way because we value their freedom of speech over the feelings of those who might be offended.

In Singapore things are apparently quite different. Amos Yee does not have the freedom to offend - but I believe he should and he apparently believes he should as well. He is standing up to authority, goading the State into action, shining a spotlight on the absurdity of imprisoning a teenager for insulting religious ideas and people. They view HIM as the threat.

That is the danger of creeping Hate Speech, of allowing the definition of Hate Speech to encompass anything that might offend or criticize or hurt the feelings of institutions and individuals alike. We've seen this idea not just in foreign countries but even here in America there are attempts to silence critics merely by labeling what they have to say as "hate speech".

This is a downright DANGEROUS trend if it is allowed to continue to take root in Western democracies as it creates protected sub-classes of people and ideas that are off limits to criticism, mockery and insult. It is absolutely imperative to free speech that we have the right to criticize religion, superstition and indeed ALL ideas, openly and yes even using mockery and profanity if we so choose.

It may seem crass or crude. It may lack the logical polish and eloquent delivery of a posh English atheist with an education but what Amos Yee is doing IS important. And yet these bronze age superstitions enjoy special protection from the government lest someone feel insulted or offended for being told honestly and without filter that they believe absurd nonsense with no basis in reality.

It doesn't matter if you're an atheist or not, if you believe in Free Speech you must stand up for it. I for one believe that free speech should have no borders and that it is a universal human right, one that has been curtailed in Singapore to such a pathetic degree that Amos Yee now faces prison - or potentially worse.

Conclusion - Shame on Singapore

Perhaps if enough of a ruckus is made Singapore can be shamed into changing its laws to reflect more acceptable liberal principles of individual freedom. It would be nice to get the kid out of prison and preferably out of the country where these draconian laws threaten him with prison and the Muslim/Christian population threaten him with potentially violent consequences for his criticism of religion.

But maybe the whole thing will fail, I hope not. At the very least I hope this will spark a conversation about freedom of speech and how the inter-connectivity of the world is causing tyranny to be harder to maintain as young people rebel against authority using information gained online and social media to coordinate their actions.

At the end of the day Amos Yee knew what he was doing would get him into trouble, he had been in prison before and he knew damn well they'd catch up with him eventually. Amos purposefully goaded the authorities into action by being provocative and blatant. But that doesn't make what Singapore has done here any less reprehensible or the laws any less batshit crazy.

Amos Yee basically told the Singapore authorities, be they religious or otherwise, to go fuck themselves, because he was going to speak his mind and say what he wanted to say about religion. Was it unwise? Sure. Offensive? Definitely. But it was also, in my opinion, brave and heroic. He knew the consequences and he did what he believed was right by standing up for his freedom of speech.

If any of us were living in a system like that would we speak out like Amos? Or would we just shuffle on our way with our heads down pretending nothing was wrong with the system?


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    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 18 months ago from back in the lab again

      I never accused you of doing of those things, I was merely outlining tactics used by trolls to silence people they don't like. I've had these tactics used against me before and I've seen them in use all over the internet.

    • profile image

      Wild Bill 18 months ago

      Well, since Paladin_ won't allow my comment to go through, I thought I would come here to answer you back. I am also pretty sure you won't allow this one, but at least I will know you read it.

      You said: "When you can't win an argument simply goad your opponent into insulting you and then report them,"

      I have no idea why you would think I 'goaded' Paladin_. He and I discussed a topic and we both were presenting our opinions and how we came up with them. He then got frustrated because I wouldn't bend to his way of thinking and he told me FU. Even after he said this, I still didn't insult him and stayed on topic, although I did report him. I think it is not a stretch for me to do that after what he said to me. Have you never reported anyone?

      You said: "Gotta love the religious people who have learned they can silence dissent and disagreement with their ideas by playing the victim."

      I find that ironic that you say I am the one playing the victim, yet you say I 'goad' people into insulting me. Who is the victim? I don't 'make' anyone personally attack me. It is their lack of morals that causes that.

    • CYong74 profile image

      Cedric Yong 18 months ago from Singapore

      Hey, Titen,

      You got that completely right! Anarchist is the word I would use to describe him.

      He's probably unhinged too, no thanks to what our government and people did to him last year. The feeling I get is that he's suicidal. Willing to go to any extent to further embarrass Singapore. In that sense, I pity and feel sorry for him. Like what some of us say, he'd probably had thrived if he was born elsewhere.

    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 18 months ago from back in the lab again

      Thank you CYong74 for the very informative post!

      I agree that he does seem to be being contrarian and provocative just for the sake of stirring up a shit storm and getting people upset. Perhaps he's some sort of anarchist or something, it isn't clear. The fact that he would have an opportunity and enough money to leave Singapore but then come back just to stir up more controversy fits in with what he said in one video where he called it just a big game to him. Apparently he just doesn't care what happens to be him, maybe he genuinely does have mental problems, if so I hope he gets the help he needs.

    • wrenchBiscuit profile image

      Ronnie wrenchBiscuit 18 months ago

      When I was his age I was a sailor stationed in San Diego. Me and my buddies used to go to Tijuana for the weekends. We were also brave and stupid. But we were lucky and survived. I applaud Amos for challenging the status quo. I hope he also has good luck, and has the chance to grow up as well. I had never heard of him before. Thanks for posting.

    • CYong74 profile image

      Cedric Yong 18 months ago from Singapore

      I'm Singaporean and I'll begin by saying I'm not defending the government. I'd rather be dead than do that.

      This matter of Amos Yee goes far deeper than what it seems. It began with the kid celebrating the death of Singapore's "founding prime minister," the very colourful Lee Kuan Yew. Coincidentally, or not, he posted some anti-Christianity videos at that point. Several Singaporeans made police report. The whole matter blew up, ending with the kid remanded in a psych ward for over a month.

      In fact, he was remanded for so long, he didn't need to serve his eventual criminal sentence. According to the kid, the experience was horrid, since he was literally in a ward of screaming loonies.

      But there's more to this. First, a lot of civil activists reached out to him. He either played them out, or humiliated them in social media. Subsequently, he was quiet for a while, then went berserk with a new wave of attack on Muslims, fled the country, returned, and just kept goading the police with all sorts of insults and videos. Till his current arrest. If you actually examine his actions since November, you'd see that the Singaporean police seemed to have ignored him for quite a while. Despite police reports about the Muslim insults, he easily left the country before the New Year. He chose to return, and to whacking everyone, till an arrest is instructed.

      Here's what I think, personally.

      1) The kid has a point in the things he says. But whether he actually means it, whether he actually believes it, that I doubt.

      2) I admit the overreaction of the Singaporean public (not the government), possibly heightened his vehemence and lunacy.

      3) This kid is a nasty piece of work. Sorry to put it that way. You know, people donated money to support him, and he mocked the donors? He turns up to take smiley pictures with one opposition candidate, the one who presses hardest for free speech, then post a video on why NOT to vote this bugger the next day? It's like, what is his position? Does he really represent anything rather than discord?

      4) Here's what most Singaporeans I know feel. We sympathise, especially with his mum who's paying all his legal fees. We think the government overreacted. But this kid keeps begging to be re-arrested, to the extent he constantly mocked the police for months, and started posting all sorts of things about how to evade military service or arrest. Not that I support conscription. But please, that's the law over here. 90 per cent of people are happy with it. If he wants to change it, go about it properly. What's with all the foul statements and name callings?

      5) Lastly, while we have tons of ridiculous, Victorian age regulations, free speech is not exactly absent in Singapore. I write tons of government critical things on my blog. Sites like / do so too. Very few of us get arrested. Frankly, the ones who did get arrested confessed to lying and deliberate misinformation. And it's proven.

      Just my two cents worth.

    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 18 months ago from back in the lab again

      Thanks for the comment wrenchBiscuit!

      "The irony is that if free speech was legal in Singapore, then Amos wouldn't be a rising YouTube star. He probably wouldn't be making videos, because without the controversy, no one would be watching."

      Amos also makes other videos criticizing and pointing out what he believes is corruption in his government, so there is definitely a civil disobedience aspect to his channel that attracts negative attention from people in the majority, be they religious or otherwise. He appears to consider the whole thing a dangerous game of cat and mouse and as you point out he is openly inviting disaster. There's something fascinating about watching him exercise free speech while basically daring them to come and get him, it takes a mixture of bravery and stupidity on his part.

    • wrenchBiscuit profile image

      Ronnie wrenchBiscuit 18 months ago

      I watched a few videos. The kids quite animated, and he has that look. It's the look that Rodney Dangerfield had. Often it was Rodney's facial expressions and his general appearance that made the jokes even funnier. But of course this kid is flirting with disaster. I have no doubt that a Supreme Being exists. But I also have no doubt that religion is a major control mechanism of government's around the world. I don't need law enforcement to protect me from atheists. After all of the recent killings by rogue cops, I see law enforcement as being a greater threat to all of us.

      The irony is that if free speech was legal in Singapore, then Amos wouldn't be a rising YouTube star. He probably wouldn't be making videos, because without the controversy, no one would be watching.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 18 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Singapore is a weird duck. Prison for being different. I think this standard charter is pretty old.

      Article 19.

      Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.