After an almost two-hour delay in the morning, the trial of 16-year old blogger Amos Yee finally got underway at the State Court on Thursday.
The teenager is being charged on two counts involving his online content which he had published recently.
The first count is for remarks in a Youtube video which the prosecution claims “contained remarks against Christianity, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of Christians in general”.
The second charge is one of transmitting an allegedly obscene caricature of Singapore’s late prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and the late British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, on his blog.
A third charge, originally filed against him, was under the Protection from Harassment Act for the video which the prosecution claims “contained remarks about Mr Lee Kuan Yew which was intended to be heard and seen by persons likely to be distressed”.
The prosecution has stood down this third charge for the time being. It could be taken up against Amos Yee again in the future.
The youth was arrested on 30 March and charged the next day.
He is also currently in remand after having rejected the conditions attached to his bail, which include not posting any content online on any subject until his trial is completed.
The prosecution, at the bail review hearing which was held on Wednesday, also introduced a new condition – that Amos Yee went for “psychiatric counselling” if he is let out on bail.
The deputy public prosecutor had also agreed to remove other earlier bail conditions, including the requirement for the teenager to report daily to the Bedok police station.
But Amos Yee refused the conditions altogether, prompting the judge at the review to deny his release from remand.
Members of the public turned up early at court room 7 at the State Court for Thursday’s trial, and the public gallery was packed, with those unable to get in having to wait outside the room.
When Amos Yee was finally brought out in court, a collective gasp was raised from those in the public gallery.
The teenager was handcuffed and shackled in both hands and feet as he made his way to the dock, and he wore a white t-shirt with the word “PRISONER” emblazoned on the back.
“Why shackle him?” some in the gallery said out loud. “Why treat him like that?” they asked. This prompted court officers to order the gallery to be silent.
Amos Yee, who looked to be in good spirits, confirmed that he was pleading not guilty to both charges when asked by the presiding judge, Jasvender Kaur.
He also chose not to give testimony.
The prosecution said it will not be calling any witnesses.
Defence counsel, Alfred Dodwell, told the court that defence will be relying on the statement which Amos Yee had given to the police.
The judge then turned to the evidence submitted by the prosecution, and made particular mention of the obscenity charge.
Apparently referring to the image of Lee and Thatcher, which is the basis of the prosecution’s obscenity charge, the judge said an image by itself was not enough to conclude obscenity. She said there must be intent to profane and corrupt.
She thus instructed the prosecution to address this at Friday’s hearing.
The hearing lasted only a short while as defence counsels asked the court for more time to examine the prosecution’s evidence.
The judge agreed and adjourned the hearing to tomorrow afternoon.
Asked by reporters after the hearing how his client was holding up, Mr Dodwell said, “He’s in the highest spirit possible and he is very happy with the conduct of the case and he feels very confident about it. Amos is very positive. He believes that he’s done nothing wrong, stands by what he says, and this is the very reason why he is in remand, because he refused to be gagged.”
Mr Dodwell, visibly upset, then reminded the media that Amos Yee was a youth and that he should be treated with dignity.
He was apparently referring to news reports which had inaccurately claimed that the teenager had refused psychiatric counselling twice and had refused to attend a third one.
In fact, counsellor Vincent Law has since told The Online Citizen (TOC) that Amos Yee’s third session at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) had clashed with the day of his bail review hearing.
He thus could not attend the IMH session, even though they had tried to ask the institute to bring the session forward. (See here.)
Mr Law told TOC, “You should know that Amos refused bail today (Wednesday) not because he doesn’t want to continue psychiatric counselling but because he didn’t want to be gagged.”
Indeed, this has been the teenager’s position from the beginning. He believes that he has not done anything wrong, and not been found guilty of any offence, and thus should have the right under the Constitution to free speech.
The bail conditions denied him this right and he thus rejected the conditions.
“For a 16-year old boy to take such a stand, I think… [the] media should reflect him properly,” Mr Dodwell said, “as opposed to try to paint him as some psychopath, needing psychiatric treatment and stuff.”
“He is only 16! Only 16! Please don’t forget that,” Mr Dodwell said. “Don’t make him out to be some kind of demon.”
His remarks were met with cheers and applause from members of the public who were there.
Both of Amos Yee’s parents were also present in court today.
In the meantime, police have told the media that investigations are still ongoing into the assault on Amos Yee which took place on 30 April outside the State Court.
A 49-year old man is reported to have since been arrested by the police for the incident.