(New York) – US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials should immediately release persecuted Singaporean activist and blogger Amos Yee, who was granted asylum by a US immigration judge on March 24, 2017, PEN America and Human Rights Watch said today. Yee, who has been detained since December, remains in ICE custody on the grounds that the Department of Homeland Security may file an appeal against the grant of asylum.
Yee, 18, arrived in the United States from Singapore on December 17, 2016 and requested asylum. He has been detained since his arrival. On March 24, an immigration judge found that the Singaporean authorities’ actions toward Yee amounted to persecution and granted him asylum. However, ICE officials opted to continue to detain him while they decide whether the government will appeal the immigration judge’s decision.
“The continued detention of Amos Yee is disgraceful because it undermines the very principles of due process, fairness, and freedom of speech that he sought in escaping Singapore,” said Karin Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “Yee has faced unnecessary emotional and mental harm as a result of his unjust detention. We support his renewed request to be released following his successful asylum claim.”
In Singapore, Yee had been subjected to politically motivated prosecution for his outspoken speech. Although Singapore’s constitution protects the right to freedom of speech and expression, the government curtails those rights in violation of international law.
A Singapore court convicted Yee in May 2015 of “wounding religious feelings” for posting a video unfavorably comparing the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his followers to Jesus and Christians. Under 18 at the time of his arrest, Yee was detained for 53 days when he was sentenced. He was released in July 2015 after the court ruled that he had served his full sentence.
The US government has not provided grounds consistent with international law for detaining Yee, the two organizations said. International human rights law articulates a strong presumption against the detention of refugees. While detention is not prohibited, it should only be used as a measure of last resort. Refugees should not be held in detention, absent clear and compelling reasons to do so.
A series of Executive Orders and Department of Homeland Security memos issued by the Trump administration direct ICE officials to exercise their authority to parole asylum seekers out of detention “sparingly,” contrary to international human rights standards.
Yee’s legal team is exploring options to secure his release, while the Department of Homeland Security has 30 days to file an appeal of the judge’s asylum decision.
“Amos Yee is one of tens of thousands of asylum seekers who are being arbitrarily held in dangerous, jail-like conditions in the United States,” said Clara Long, US researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s refusal to release the teen after a judge’s recognition that he is a refugee is harsh and unnecessary.”