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Singapore Police Arrest Teen for Anti-Christian Online Comments

FILE - Members of the public light candles around a portrait of the late Lee Kuan Yew as a tribute to him, March 27, 2015, in Singapore.
FILE - Members of the public light candles around a portrait of the late Lee Kuan Yew as a tribute to him, March 27, 2015, in Singapore.

A Singapore teenager, who criticized Lee Kuan Yew on social media soon after the former leader's death, has been arrested and will be charged with making “insensitive and disparaging” comments about Christians, police said on Tuesday.

Police did not give the teenager's name, saying only that he was 16, but Singapore's Straits Times newspaper and other media identified him as Amos Yee. The case has reignited concerns about censorship in the Asian financial hub.

In a widely viewed YouTube video, Yee celebrated the death of Singapore's founding father Lee, who died last week aged 91 and was cremated after a state funeral on Sunday. Yee also made insensitive remarks about Christianity in the video, which was seen by hundreds of thousands before it was taken down.

He will be charged on Tuesday with offenses that include intentionally wounding the religious or racial feelings of another person or group, and could face up to three years in jail, police said in a statement.

More than 20 reports about the video had been received, it said.

“Police take a stern view of acts that could threaten religious harmony in Singapore,” Deputy Commissioner of Police Investigations & Intelligence Tan Chye said in the 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.

Human Rights Watch's Asia deputy director, Phil Robertson, said the government's move would only result in more people seeing the video.

“However crass Amos Yee’s statements in the video may be, nothing he said should have landed him in a criminal court. Religions are resilient and able to defend themselves, and in a real democracy, his allegations should have been easily rebutted by the weight of public opinion. All Singapore has managed to do in this instance is make more people want to see Amos Yee’s video. The government should drop the charges and release him, and end its repression of free expression,” said Robertson.

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.

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