Sunday, 25 Oct 2020

Amos Yee faces deportation if convicted of child porn charges

Singaporean blogger Amos Yee, 20, was charged with solicitation and possession of child pornography in an Illinois court on Friday, according to local media reports.

Yee, who was jailed twice in Singapore, in 2015 and 2016, for wounding religious feelings, was granted asylum in the United States in 2017 and has been living in Chicago since then.

He allegedly exchanged nude photos and thousands of messages with a 14-year-old Texas girl while in Chicago, reported the Chicago Sun-Times daily newspaper.

Yee appeared at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago on Friday for his bond hearing.

His bail was set at US$1 million (S$1.36 million) and he has been banned from using the Internet while awaiting trial.

If convicted, Yee’s asylum status could be revoked and he could be deported.

According to the report, prosecutors obtained messages Yee exchanged between April and July last year which included nude photographs he asked for and received from the girl, as well as nude photos of himself that he sent to her.

They said that the girl repeatedly brought up her age, and Yee had told her to remove her age from her WhatsApp profile.

After their relationship soured, the girl reached out to a group called “interested in exposing paedophiles” and Homeland Security officials were notified, said the report, citing prosecutors.

In a Facebook post on Friday, New York-based Singaporean activist Melissa Chen, a former advocate of Yee, appeared to confirm their account.

She wrote that she had been first alerted to Yee’s alleged activity anonymously more than a year ago, by an individual from the community of “MAP (minor-attracted people) hunters”.

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“I took the allegations seriously, responded and verified the accusations. After speaking with the young victim, I was broken. I vowed to do all I could to get her justice and remove him from society,” she wrote.

Ms Chen had assisted Yee in his political asylum application, but later called for him to be deported from the US over his championing of paedophilia.

While living in the US, Yee posted videos on YouTube promoting paedophilia. His YouTube channel and accounts on other social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, have since been shut down.

When contacted on Friday, Ms Sandra Grossman, who was Yee’s pro bono attorney for his asylum application, said she could not comment on her former client due to attorney-client privilege.

Yee is next due in court on Nov 5.

As a 16-year-old in Singapore, Yee was convicted in May 2015 of harassment and insulting a religious group over comments he made about Christians and Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew soon after Mr Lee’s death.

Ahead of his sentencing, 77 individuals signed an open letter in July 2015 where they urged the state to “discharge its prosecutorial function with caution, sensitivity and generosity”.

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The letter, which was sent to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, was signed by civil society activist Braema Mathi, playwright Alfian Sa’at and academic Cherian George, among others.

Yee was eventually sentenced to four weeks’ jail.

In 2016, he was sentenced to six weeks’ jail and fined $2,000 after posting comments in online videos and blog posts that were derogatory of Christianity and Islam.

In December that year, Yee left for the US a day before he was to report for a medical examination ahead of enlistment into national service. He applied for political asylum and was granted the status in September 2017.

In 2018, he posted pro-paedophilia messages online and had his YouTube, WordPress, Facebook and Twitter accounts banned.

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