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Foul-Mouthed Teenager Challenges Singapore's Puritanism

BANGKOK - The crude language used by Amos Yee to discuss sensitive issues with the puritanical Singaporean justice system in a trial was used by the United Nations as an example of the crackdown on freedom of expression in the city-state.

The 17-year-old blogger could be sentenced to upto three years in prison for six crimes, including for hurting religious sentiments of Muslims and Christians in several videos aired between November 2015 and May 2016 on his YouTube and Facebook pages.

The long-haired Singaporean teenager, dressed in casuals, arrived Wednesday in court, which will decide if he is guilty of violating religious rights of other citizens as stipulated in section 298 of the Penal Code.

In the videos, Yee offers his version of religious tenets - considered sacred by followers - in the Koran and the Bible.

David Kaye, a U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, warned Monday that Yee is a minor in accordance with international human rights laws and that the process is based on an accusation against "a legal expression" according to universal principles.

"International human rights law allows only serious and extreme instances of incitement to hatred to be prohibited as criminal offences, not other forms of expression, even if they are offensive, disturbing or shocking," Kaye said in a statement.

According to Kaye, the trial against Yee, who will defend himself during the hearings, is another example of the growing repression of dissidents and political opponents in the city-state.

Singapore has strict domestic laws intended to retain harmony between various religious groups who live in the country and to prevent sectarian violence.

According to 2010 census data, Buddhism is the dominant religion in Singapore (practiced by 33 percent of the population), followed by Christianity (18 percent), Islam (15 percent), Taoism (11 percent), Hinduism (5 percent), and atheists (17 percent).

The police had arrested Yee on May 11 on five charges that includes offensive comments against Islam and Catholicism.

The blogger was released on bail the same day after he paid a fine of US$3,700, while the prosecution demanded a speedy trial in order to address the youngster's "offensive behavior."

Yee also faces two charges for failing to appear in front of the police on two occasions after receiving a subpoena.

Yee was also sentenced to four weeks in jail in 2015 for ridiculing former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, considered the father of modern Singapore, in a video.

The sentence, however, was not effective since, Yee, then 16 years old, was locked up for 53 days, before the trial, in the Changi prison and subsequently was sent to a mental health institute on medical advice.

Human Rights Watch in its annual report highlighted Singapore's terrible respect for freedom of expression for trying a minor in court and the persecution of independent bloggers to mask repression and censorship in the city-state.

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