SINGAPORE — A Singapore teenager has been charged with harassment and insulting a religious group for comments he made on social media about former premier Lee Kuan Yew and Christians soon after Lee’s death, authorities said on Tuesday.
Amos Yee, who police said was 16, was charged under the recently enacted Protection from Harassment Act over a YouTube video in which he celebrated the death of Lee, the founding father of modern Singapore who died last week aged 91 and was cremated after a state funeral on Sunday.
Yee’s case has reignited concerns about censorship and social controls in the Asian financial hub and drew criticism from an international media freedom watchdog.
Other offences on Yee’s charge sheet included intentionally wounding the religious or racial feelings of another person, which carries a jail term of up to three years, and circulating an obscene image.
Yee faces a fine of up to S$5,000 (US$3,633) if found guilty of the harassment charge.
His comments about Lee were made in a widely viewed YouTube video, in which he also made what were described as insensitive remarks about Christianity. The clip was viewed hundreds of thousands of times before it was taken down.
Yee appeared in court accompanied by his parents. Outside the court, his father told reporters he wanted to apologize to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew’s son.
Bail was set at S$20,000, and deputy public prosecutor Hon Yi asked that Yee agree not to upload or distribute any comment or content while the case is being heard.
A pre-trial conference has been set for April 17.
Police said they received more than 20 reports about the video which they said contained “insensitive and disparaging remarks” against Christians.
“Police take a stern view of acts that could threaten religious harmony in Singapore,” Deputy Commissioner of Police Investigations & Intelligence Tan Chye Hee said in a statement.
“Any person who uploads offensive content online with [the] deliberate intention of wounding the religious or racial feelings of any person will be firmly dealt with in accordance with the law,” Tan said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement it was concerned about Yee’s arrest on Sunday and called on authorities to release him immediately.
“The arrest of a young blogger for comments made in a video highlights the restrictive environment in which Singaporean journalists are forced to work,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.
Singapore has tight rules on censorship, blocking dozens of websites and publications ranging from Playboy magazine to some children’s books and comics.