SINGAPORE (AP) — Lawyers for an outspoken Singaporean teenager charged with offending religious feelings in an online video that criticized the city-state’s founding father said that he did not intend to hurt Christians.
Amos Yee, a 16-year-old blogger, has been thrust into the spotlight in tightly-controlled Singapore after he posted the online monologue laced with expletives as the country was mourning the first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.
Such open criticism is rarely tolerated in Singapore, where deference is a cultural norm and self-censorship is endorsed. In his blogs and previous video postings, Yee has portrayed himself as the opposite of what society expects of a model citizen: a high school dropout who has criticized his teachers, parents, government and even the nation’s founder.
He is facing two criminal charges — one of offending Christians with comments in the video such as Jesus and Lee Kuan Yew were “power-hungry and malicious,” and another of distributing a manipulated image of Lee and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a sexual act.
Defense lawyers and prosecutors completed their closing arguments Friday, and the judge said she would announce her verdict next Tuesday.
Yee wore thin flip-flops and a white T-shirt to court with the word “prisoner” emblazoned in black letters across the back. He smiled to the crowd as he was escorted into the courtroom by three police officers, his wrists handcuffed and his ankles in shackles connected by chains.
He could face up to three years in prison and a fine if found guilty of hurting religious feelings, and up to three months and a fine on the charge of distributing obscene content.
Yee’s lawyers said he did not intend to hurt the feelings of Christians, and that prosecutors had not presented any evidence that he had actually offended any.
Prosecutors countered by saying Yee had made the material public, suggesting that it was intended to reach “all and sundry” and that Yee therefore could not claim that he did not intend his words to be seen by people who would be offended. They also said the image of Lee and Thatcher was obscene “because it depicts gratuitous sexual activity.”
Deputy public prosecutor Hay Hung Chun said Yee’s defense contradicted a statement he had given police on the night he was arrested in which he said he knew his video was “bound to promote ill-will” among Christians.
In the statement to police, Yee said he dropped out of school late last year and spent his days watching movies, playing video games and making videos. He said after Lee Kuan Yew’s death in March he noticed that “many people were glorifying him and praising him for his contributions to modern-day Singapore,” and that he then began researching Lee’s life.
“After my research, I realized that he was a horrible man and that some of his policies were inane. In the midst of my research, I began to see a lot of similarities between Lee Kuan Yew and Jesus Christ,” he said in the statement.
According to court documents, Yee told police that he was raised Catholic but later turned atheist.
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