Amos Yee today walks free – battered, perhaps bruised, but nonetheless with head held high.
The teenager has fought in his own way a battle which has attracted international attention, all the way to the United Nations, and from Taiwan to Malaysia and Hong Kong.
He should never have been charged in the first place.
Two days before the funeral of Lee Hsien Loong’s father, Lee Kuan Yew, Amos posted a video in which he ranted and railed against the late Lee, and compared him to the Christian religious icon, Jesus Christ. The comparison was not flattering at all to either men.
Soon, the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) threw a fit and went into convulsion, falling all over itself to bring the most tenuous of charges against the teen.
First, there was the charge of posting an obscene image on his blog. This, actually, was a cartoon of the late Lee and the late British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, in a sexually compromising depiction.
The AGC raised a howl – it is obscene! And thus added it to the charge sheet.
And then there was the most ridiculous claim by the AGC that Amos’s video had caused “distress” to those who viewed it on Youtube, and the teenager had thus “harassed” these poor people who voluntarily went to Amos’s blog, or to Youtube, searched for the video, clicked on it, and watched the entire 8-minute clip.
All done voluntarily.
But they were “harassed”.
And so the AGC, through its deputy public prosecutor (DPP), added this to the charge sheet – under the relatively new Protection from Harassment Act.
Perhaps after thinking about it for a while, the AGC/DPP later decided that maybe this charge isn’t that convincing. You can only twist the interpretation of the law this much. And so the DPP decided to “stand down the charge”. But after even more thinking, it later decided to withdraw it altogether – legs between its tail, obviously.
And then there was the third, perhaps most serious charge – that of “wounding the religious feelings of Christians”.
This is the one charge which the DPP is hanging on to, to justify its inept and mishandling of the entire case.
No Christian has stepped forth to say that he or she has been wounded by the video or the remarks made by Amos in the video.
No Christian religious leader or Christian organisation has stepped forth to say it has been hurt or wounded by what the teenager had done or said.
In fact, the opposite has happened.
Christians and others started a petition to ask for the government to release Amos Yee. The two petitions have garnered more than 10,000 signatories in support of the Free Amos Yee call.
A Christian stepped forth to post bail for Amos Yee when no one else would or could.
A Christian pastor stepped forth at Hong Lim Park to say there is nothing to forgive Amos Yee for.
Yet, the DPP went on a wild goose hunt, fooling himself and no one else, that indeed there are hurt feelings and wounded Christians in this battle which in his imagination he conjured.
And so the fiasco of a vindictive PAP Government, unable to forgive or take the higher ground over the rant of an admittedly bratty teenager, dragged on for weeks – putting Singapore unfavourably in the international spotlight.
We must show how we deal with those who “denigrate or offend” the religious feelings of our people, to paraphrase the haughty words of our High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
Yet, ironically, did not Lee Kuan Yew himself offend Muslims with his words in a 2011 book?
And did not the Muslims themselves express such hurt?
“In our view, MM’s comments have hurt the community and are potentially divisive,” the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) said in a statement then, referring to Lee Kuan Yew’s former title of Minister Mentor. (See here.)
And did not the Islamic authority of Singapore, the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), also express similar concerns over Lee Kuan Yew’s offensive words?
Lee Kuan Yew’s remarks not only offended or hurt the Muslims community, as AMP said, it was also seen as racist by some.
And what happened to the late Lee?
There were no reports of him being hauled up for questioning or interview by the police.
There were no arrests, no charges levelled against him, no seizure of his passport, no raiding of his home or demand to his passwords for his laptop, no handcuffs, no shackles.
Nothing happened to Lee for almost two whole months – before he finally apologised.
Are some given time to ponder and consider before they decide to apologise, while others are not so favoured and arrested a day or two after alleged offences?
But how could there be any bias when the Prime Minister himself said just days ago on the return of former NTUC chief Phey Yew Kok from exile, “When we discover wrongdoing, we do not hesitate to act. We will not allow any cover up, even when it is awkward or embarrassing for the Government.”
And did not our own High Commissioner to the UK say only yesterday, rebutting an article in The Economist about the government’s clamp-down on bloggers:
“We cannot allow people to denigrate or offend the religious beliefs of others: the result is anger and violence, as we have seen elsewhere.”
So, what is the rule of law? How does the AGC or the DPP apply it?
Why was Amos put through the grinder while there wasn’t even a squeak about what Lee Kuan Yew did?
The AGC’s discretionary prosecutorial decisions should be given greater scrutiny and questioning.
Whatever it is, a government which applies the law inconsistently, and seemingly in a bias fashion, will create distrust in the legal and judicial system ultimately.
Amos Yee should never have been charged at all.
The charges against him are tenuous and ridiculous.
Yet, he has been found guilty on two counts.
And what is even more disconcerting is that the 16-year old has served more time than his actual sentence of four weeks.
Amos had been in remand at Changi Prison and the Institute of Mental Health for a total of 55 days.
This is 25 days more than his sentence of one month.
This has been a concern raised by lawyers in recent years. (See here.)
How do we justify this, when others are not even hauled up for allegedly committing similar offences?
And what about Amos himself? How do we erase the stigma of his being in an mental institution, of being deemed to supposedly have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and now found that he in fact does not and never were autistic?
How does the State propose that all this will not affect the young boy’s future?
Or does the State and its ministers prefer to turn a blind eye and pretend everything is over and they have nothing to say, sticking perhaps to the views of one of its ministers – even as the teenager’s case was before the court – that the boy is “kind of every parent’s nightmare”, oblivious to the fact that it is the Government which created this hellish situation for the boy in the first place by bringing these absurd charges against him?
The treatment of Amos Yee is disgusting and should be abhorred by all right thinking people, especially parents of young children.
No matter how the government spins it, there is simply no justification for incarcerating a teenager in an adult prison and a mental institution for such a prolonged period simply for making a video which it dislikes.
It betrays all that we Singaporeans believe in.
Freelance journalist Kirsten Han, who covered the court case on Monday, made this observation:
Amos is out. He came out in T-shirt and shorts, clutching a bag of his belongings to his chest. He looked shell-shocked to me, shuffling and looking down at the ground.
He did not look or behave like the boy I met not long after he was first charged. That boy was smug and cocky. The boy today is silent and downcast.
As his family left the courthouse the media pursued them down the short road.
This article first appeared on The Online Citizen. Click on the link below to read more.