Singaporean blogger released after winning U.S. ruling for asylum

By Chris Kenning
FILE PHOTO: Teen blogger Amos Yee arrives at the State Courts in Singapore September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

By Chris Kenning

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A young Singaporean blogger who says he was persecuted for his political opinions in the Southeast Asian country was released on Tuesday from U.S. detention in Chicago after a federal immigration panel ruled in his favour.

The federal Board of Immigration Appeals upheld a March decision by a Chicago immigration judge granting asylum to Amos Yee, 18, who had been jailed twice in Singapore for social media postings critical of government officials, his attorneys said on Tuesday.

"Now I can criticize the Singapore government without being sent to prison," Yee told Reuters after his release.

Yee's trials in Singapore were closely watched by rights groups and the United Nations, and fuelled debate in Singapore over censorship, the limits of free speech and political correctness.

Yee had been in U.S. immigration detention since December 2016 when he arrived seeking asylum, according to Yee's attorney Sandra Grossman. The court made its ruling on Sept. 21, but Grossman said she only learned of the outcome this week.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which opposed Yee's asylum application and argued the Singapore government had legitimately prosecuted him, could not be immediately reached.

The department could appeal the ruling to a circuit court but Grossman said she believed it was unlikely.

Chicago immigration Judge Samuel Cole found Yee's prosecution, detention and treatment by Singapore authorities "constitute(s) persecution on account of Yee's political opinions."

Officials at Singapore's embassy in Washington could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday. In March, the country's Ministry of Home Affairs issued a statement in which it quoted Yee's remarks against Muslims and Christians and noted Yee had pleaded guilty to charges against him.

In September last year, Yee pleaded guilty to six charges of deliberately posting comments on the internet - in videos, blog posts and a picture - that were critical of Christianity and Islam. He was sentenced to six weeks in jail.

In 2015, Yee was convicted on charges of harassment and insulting a religious group over comments he made about former premier Lee Kuan Yew and Christians soon after Lee's death. His sentence at the time amounted to four weeks in jail.

The case now goes back to a Chicago immigration court to complete any security investigations or exams as part of the asylum process.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)