16-year old blogger Amos Yee explained in court documents that his intention in critiquing Christianity and Lee Kuan Yew is to open discussions on what he saw as “problems” with the faith and Singapore.
The teenager said that he was aware his critique would lead some people to take offence, but that this promoted discussion, which, he added, “was healthy for positive change to take place in future.”
Amos Yee is being charged for remarks he made in a video on the death of the late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s former prime minister.
The authorities say the video “contained remarks against Christianity, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of Christians in general”.
He is also being charged for a caricature of Mr Lee and the late British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, which the authorities say is an offence under Singapore’s obscenity laws.
After his video on Mr Lee was uploaded, Amos Yee said there were positive and negative comments from the public, and that he was “pleased that my video had opened up a bigger avenue to look at religion objectively, instead of mere blind faith.”
He said he had concerns about the Christian faith and that the “the only way to rectify the problem is to criticize the problems head-on.”
He explained that while he “was aware that critiquing these problems (with the Christian faith) would promote ill-will”, he saw this as “a natural consequence”, and that “promoting ill-will is a prerogative for positive change to happen in society, especially if the issue at hand were initially controversial.”
The teen said he was born into a Catholic family and was raised a Catholic.
However, in 2013, when he was about to be confirmed as a Catholic (which is a practice in the Church known as “Confirmation”), he “started to question the implications” of it.
He then began to conduct his own research into the faith by watching online videos on Youtube and reading blog posts.
His finding, from these, and other “emotional catalysts” such as being “kicked out” of the altar boys group for swearing, resulted in him disengaging from the Church altogether in 2013, he said.
Earlier this year, he observed that “there was huge outpouring of grief online and in the mainstream media” when Mr Lee passed away.
He said this “piqued” his interest and he decided to conduct more research on Mr Lee. He visited blogger Roy Ngerng’s website, had discussions with supporters of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and read Mr Lee’s book, “Lee Kuan Yew: The Man And His Ideas”, which he had borrowed from Toa Payoh library.
“After my research, I realised that he was a horrible man and that some of his policies were inane,” Amos Yee said.
Subsequently, he decided to make a video on Mr Lee’s death, in which he also drew comparisons between Mr Lee and Jesus Christ.
Amos Yee said he has been making videos since he was 12-years old.
He had also won two awards – Best Actor and Best Short Film – for one of his films, “Jan”, three years ago in The New Paper’s first film award competition, beating 160 other entries.
In the 8-minute video on Mr Lee, titled “Lee Kuan Yew is finally dead!”, where he spoke some 1,200 words, Amos Yee mentioned “Jesus Christ” once, and “Christian” twice.
Before uploading the video online, he asked two of his friends if the video would be legal, but both gave him inconclusive answers.
He then looked up the Sedition Act to see if his video would contravene the law.
“However, after reading through the Act, I remained unsure as to the legality of my video,” he said in the court documents.
Nonetheless, he said he “was aware that the contents of the video were seditious in nature” but he was unsure if his actions would land him in jail.
He decided to go ahead and upload the video after he saw how others “whose opinions were published online and promoted a lot of ill-will, continued to publish these opinions of theirs and were not charged under the Sedition Act.”
He thus did not think that his actions (in uploading the video online) would be deemed illegal.
After the video became public, the teenager said he noticed that the majority of online comments in reaction to it were “hate-filled messages”.
But he said he expected this “as the content was meant to be controversial.”
There were also, he noted, “a noticeable amount of people who agreed with my views and supported my stance.”
The video has thus far been viewed more than a million times on Youtube.
Amos Yee also revealed in his court documents that he “began receiving death threats and hate messages online and on my mobile phone.”
He said he was “not overly concerned” by these as he felt most of them were baseless and were “not steeped in logic.”
“Besides, despite the hatred and ill-will generated from my video, it opened up a larger avenue for critical discussion towards Lee Kuan Yew, thus raising awareness to the inherent problems of Singapore,” he said.
Amos Yee was assaulted outside the State Court about a week ago as he made his way to a pre-trial conference.
A 49-year old man is reported to have been arrested for the assault since, and police say investigations are ongoing.
As for the caricature of Mr Lee and Mrs Thatcher portrayed in an unflattering manner, Amos Yee said he came up with the image after learning that Mrs Thatcher had once said Mr Lee “was always right.”
The teenager felt that this was an “overgeneralisation” and “too sweeping to be objectively true.”
His intention in making the image was thus to make fun of Mrs Thatcher’s claim, and to encourage more people to “openly criticise and make fun of their political leaders.”
This, he said, “opens up a larger avenue for critical analysis and positive change in Singapore.”
Amos Yee said he refuses to remove any of the videos he has made, or the post about Mr Lee and Mrs Thatcher, “because it would not appease the public”, and also it would suggest that he was sorry for the videos and the blog post, which he is in fact not sorry for.
He explained that he was not remorseful for his actions because while he knows that they are offensive, “that is an aspect for freedom of speech and positive change to occur.”
Amos Yee had ended his video expressing hope that Singapore would see positive changes, especially with a general election expected to be called soon.
“[There] is high chance that us, citizens of Singapore, things can finally change for the better,” he said in the video. “Let’s all hope for change, for good change, for every possible kind.”
After the hearing on Wednesday, the teenager’s lawyer, Alfred Dodwell, said his client was in good spirits.
“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 refuses to be gagged,” Mr Dodwell said.
The parents of the 16-year old were in court to lend support to their son yesterday, along with friends and supporters of Amos Yee.
The two-day trial, presided by District Judge Jasvendar Kaur, continues on Friday afternoon.
Read also: “Amos Yee pleads not guilty, in good spirits”.