Much ado over one little Amos Yee

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By Jentrified Citizen

It’s been 40 days since Amos Yee was arrested and he has spent some 15 days in remand since then. Following the 2-day trial which ended yesterday, this 16-year-old boy is currently languishing in a Changi Prison cell awaiting the court verdict which is expected next Tuesday.

One can only imagine how he must be feeling and how surprised he must be that his 8-min video rant against Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) has exploded in such an unimaginable way that has brought out the worst and the best in Singaporeans and even drawn international attention to how intolerant a society we have become and how insensitive our system is in the treatment of a child.

Yes, lest some forget, he is still a child not an adult according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which defines “child” as persons under age 18. If any adult disagrees, please ask yourself if you truly felt like an adult when you were 16.

Over the past month, we have witnessed a shocking level of intolerance and vindictiveness in the overblown response to the video.  Yes, the timing of his video soon after LKY died was bad, yes he did say things that were rude in his rant against LKY and this offended SOME fervent fans of LKY and SOME Christians. But many, including Christians and Catholics, have also spoken up to say they were not offended. Yet, for this one short video, which he did to get people thinking about political issues, Amos and his family have been subjected to all sorts of indignities and sufferings including online abuse by adults who should know better.

Ironically, Amos had said in an opening line in his video that “Lee Kuan Yew is a horrible person because everyone is scared, everyone is afraid that if they say something like that they will get into trouble which, to give Lee Kuan Yew his credit, that was primarily the impact of his legacy”.  All that has happened to Amos since then is reinforcing this view as zealous supporters of LKY seem hellbent on continuing this oppressive legacy.

Let me now list the trials and tribulations that the kid and his family have suffered since he his video posting on March 29:

1) Amos has been mob-lynched online by numerous adults with many making inappropriate filthy sexual threats including some wishing that he gets buttxxxx (raped) in prison and a PAP grassroots leader even wrote that he wants to cut Amos dick and stuff it into his mouth.

2) Thirty two, yes 32, police reports were filed against him including by well-known diehard grassroots supporters of the PAP.  None of these people have appeared as witnesses in court.

3) Amos was arrested on March 30 within a day of his video posting and was handcuffed and shackled in the presence of his grandparents. At least 8 police officers went to his house to arrest this boy. Why so many? Why was he treated like a felon?

4) He was given what his lawyers have argued as unreasonable and disproportionate bail terms which include a total ban on him posting anything on social media (though the AGC sniped that he can still shop online) and an initial bail amount of $20,000 (which btw is half of the bail amount imposed on Filipino Ello who had made seditious insults against Singaporeans). The bail amount was upped to $30,000 after Amos posted comments online protesting against the bail terms.

5) He was assaulted by an adult male outside of court with a heavy strike to his face which caused his eye to be swollen.  Despite being arrested a week ago, the assailant’s identity and photo has NOT been publicly disclosed.

Shockingly, many Singaporeans cheered the repulsive attack including establishment types like grassroots leaders and well-known bloggers. Their rationale for cheering? He deserved it. Yet, would any of these people allow strangers to slap or hit their child even if their child had misbehaved obnoxiously in public? Not at all.

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Struck by a man in front of court and the assailant’s identity has still not been disclosed even though he has been arrested

6) And at the public court hearing over the past two days (May 7 and 8), a pale and skinny Amos shuffled in with hands cuffed, legs shackled in heavy chains while wearing a shirt with the word PRISONER emblazoned on the back, shocking those seated in the public gallery.  The shackling and cuffing, I understand, is a police protocol for all those held in prison even if in remand. Isn’t it time to review this SOP for children and the frail elderly?

7) To add insult to injury, the media including The Straits Times have misreported several facts and tried to paint Amos’ mum as uncaring and the boy as a psychopath with mischievous and misleading headlines that screamed “Loonie!” just because the court had wanted him to undergo psychiatric counselling in exchange for reviewing the bail terms.  For the record, Amos’ mum Mdm Toh said she had taken Amos for counselling to understand why he seemed “too daring” and feared nothing, and not to find out if he was insane. The boy is brilliant and cocky but he is no psychopath. As his lawyer Alfred Dowell reminded the public – he is just a boy, don’t demonise him!

A shit-stirring headline by Straits Times
A shit-stirring headline by Straits Times

8) Just yesterday, TODAY newspaper ran a terribly misleading and wrong headline that added to the family’s humiliation when it claimed falsely that Amos was asked by his church to leave. The truth is he gave up practising his faith as a Catholic when he chose to be an atheist.

a completely wrong headline
A completely false headline

9) Since he was charged on March 31, Amos would have spent a total of 18 days in jail by the time he is brought out in chains again to hear the court verdict next Tuesday. This includes the time he spent in prison before he was bailed out by the kind soul Vincent Law (who said he had absolutely no regrets doing so) and the time that he went back to remand after breaking the bail terms by posting comments online.

Yes all the above, and more, has happened to Amos. And he is just a 16-year-old boy.

Amos has been charged with making offensive remarks about Christians and circulating an obscene image. He has pleaded not guilty to both charges against him.  Initially, he faced a third charge for making comments about the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew that were deemed likely to cause distress to Singaporeans, but this was stood down although the prosecution can still charge him for it in future if they so decide.

I understand that some people were upset by the video made by Amos.  But as his defence lawyers argued in court, there is no proof that Christians were hurt by what Amos said. Some were upset but many more were not.

As for the supposedly obscene line drawing of LKY and Margaret Thatcher, Amos’ lawyersraised the point that one must consider if there was an intent to deprave and corrupt such as causing titillation for the image to be considered obscene. IMHO, no one looking at that drawing will be titillated.

Everything that has happened to Amos would be very considered traumatising even for adults so what more for a child? Even though his lawyer has claimed Amos is in high spirits, even though many people admire the boy’s seeming resilience in the face of such adversity, no one knows how he really feels beneath the stoic facade.  There may be major longer-term repercussions as this draining saga may affect Amos’ mental development and physical health, destroy his future in Singapore and wreck his family and social relations.

The crux here is – there has been a dramatic overkill in response to what Amos did.  Why should Amos and his family be traumatised in such a manner? Did he something that was so terrible and evil to warrant all that has happened to him? Online lynching, cheering when he was assaulted, 32 police reports, jail time? Seriously??! Would any of his haters feel the same way if all this happened to their child?

Yes, he was disrespectful in his comments on LKY and on Christianity but surely any  rational person can see that such comments from a child will not wreak LKY’s reputation nor destroy the strong religious harmony which has been built over many decades in Singapore? There are many much, much worse comments made online about LKY and religion over the years and yet both survived unscathed.

While I am saddened by the pettiness and vindictiveness, I am also heartened to see many people speaking up for Amos.  Many have expressed shock at the lynching and jeering. I too was taken aback when some friends, who are normally compassionate and kind, rejoiced gleefully when Amos was assaulted.  Whatever happened to their compassionate and understanding heart? Where is the universal principle of love, forgiveness and kindness preached by their religions? Isn’t their reaction completely at odds with what they preach?

If one teenager’s online rant can draw this kind of rabid response, and if nothing is done to temper the mindset of such people, Amos’ case could well set a precedence. It may embolden the ultra conservative and ultra sensitive to take even more atrocious actions against any and every person/website/blog who/that posts anything that may be deemed offensive to them. Some may want to take personal/political/religious advantage of the very grey and broad Protection from Harassment Act and sedition laws.

Having drawn blood from getting Amos arrested and charged, will the self-righteous group become even more intolerant? Is this the kind of Singapore we want? Is this the kind of intolerant and uncompromising society we desire for us and our children? Will this not fracture our fragile harmony as one people?

So much has been said by our Government about the need to be a kind, tolerant and gracious society. We are exhorted to be gracious and accepting of all different races, religions and nationalities.  Yet, how are we treating a child who is somewhat different from the norm here? What are we seeing in the treatment of Amos?

I worry for our country if this sort of mob mentality and intolerance takes root. I hope good sense will prevail and that our Government leaders will do the right thing to rein in any zealous and unjustified mob lynching and work on building a more tolerant and open-minded society.

Let’s now put things in context. Amos is not a bad kid, not by a long shot. He did well in his studies, he has won awards for his creative work, he does not smoke, drink or do drugs and he has never committed a crime. His only “sin” that seems to offend some people is that he is very different from the norm as defined by society here. He speaks his mind bluntly, he has an unusually deep interest on socio-political issues for one so young and he has an exceptional brilliance and an ability to think critically that could make some adults uncomfortable. What he lacks for now is maturity and the ability to think strategically to survive in this world.

Amos and his family have already paid a heavy price for his one video rant. The boy needs time to grow up and understand life. He needs guidance and counselling to become wiser and to learn how to navigate this complex world in a mature way. What he does not need is vindictive abuse and immature jeering from adults who should know better. He also does not deserve to be broken and destroyed all because he made one video that pissed off some overly sensitive people.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than in the way which it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela

This article was first published at Jentrified Citizen.