SINGAPORE: Convicted teenage blogger placed in mental health detention

[23 June 2015] - A Singapore court ruled on Tuesday that a teenage blogger who was convicted of obscenity and insulting religious feelings after he posted a video criticising the late leader Lee Kuan Yew this year should be held for two weeks pending a psychiatric examination.

The teenager, Amos Yee, drew international attention when he was arrested for posting the video shortly after Mr. Lee, the founding father of modern Singapore, died on March 23.

The case has highlighted Singapore’s strict limits on speech and has drawn criticism from human rights groups, which said the treatment of the 16-year-old, including more than a month in detention and the possibility of at least 18 months in reformative training, was unduly harsh.

In Singapore, offenders under 21 can be sentenced to reformative training, in which they are housed separately from adult inmates and given “a structured environment of discipline,” according to the Singapore prosecutor’s office. 

It is not prison, but it is “akin to detention and usually applied to juvenile offenders involved in serious crimes,” according to the office of the United Nations’ human rights agency. 

A lawyer for Mr. Yee could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

Mr. Yee was held for more than two weeks before his May 12 conviction. He was taken into custody again on June 2 after a judge ordered an examination into whether he should be sentenced to reformative training.

Prosecutors have said they did not want to pursue a prison sentence. But they asked Judge Jasvender Kaur to consider reformative training for Mr. Yee after the teenager rejected probation and reposted the material he was convicted over, including an eight-minute video and an image of Mr. Lee engaged in a sex act with Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister of Britain.

A reformative training sentence would last at least 18 months.

On Tuesday, Judge Kaur ordered that the teenager be held at the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore for two weeks while doctors examine his psychological health and assess whether he should receive mandatory treatment. A report from a doctor this month suggested he could have an autism spectrum disorder.

Human Rights Watch has called on Singapore to exonerate and free Mr. Yee.

Likewise, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Southeast Asia said on Tuesday that it was concerned about Mr. Yee’s physical and mental health in detention. It called for his immediate release, saying that “the criminal sanctions considered in this case seem disproportionate and inappropriate in terms of the international protections for freedom of expression and opinion.”



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