A Chicago court has granted asylum to a teen blogger from Singapore, who has faced jail time on two occasions over his political commentary. Immigration Judge Samuel Cole, on Friday (24 March), ruled in favour of 18-year-old Amos Yee and said he qualified as a political refugee for being persecuted by the Singaporean government.
Yee had been detained by federal immigration authorities since December after being taken into custody after arriving at Chicago's O'Hare International airport seeking asylum, according to his attorney, Sandra Grossman. He will now be allowed to stay in the country if he chooses.
"The right to free speech is sacred, even when such speech is considered offensive," Grossman said according to Reuters. "The decision timely underscores the vital need for an independent judiciary in a functioning democracy."
In his 13-page decision, Cole wrote that Yee had "met his burden of showing that he suffered past persecution on account of his political opinion".
"The evidence presented at the hearing demonstrates Singapore's prosecution of Yee was a pretext to silence his political opinions critical of the Singapore government," he added.
Despite support from various political activists, Yee was unable to convince the US Department of Homeland Security of his need for asylum. The agency claimed that Singapore has a legitimate reason to prosecute Yee.
In September 2016, the blogger pleaded guilty to six charges of deliberately posting comments on the internet that criticised Christianity and Islam. He served a six-week jail sentence for "wounding religious feelings".
The previous year, Yee spent four weeks in jail after being found guilty of harassment and insulting a religious group. At the time, he had posted a video on YouTube following the death of the former premier Lee Kuan Yew. In the vlog, he compared the highly respected politician to Jesus Christ, thereby upsetting the Christian community in Singapore.