16-year old blogger, Amos Yee, has been found guilty of the two charges brought against him by the Attorney General’s Chambers.
District Judge Jasvendar Kaur delivered her much anticipated verdict on Tuesday afternoon at the State Court.
She found the teen guilty of the charge of obscenity for having uploaded a picture of the late Singapore prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew in a sexual depiction with the former British prime minister, the late Margaret Thatcher.
Amos Yee was also convicted of the second charge of wounding the feelings of Christians for remarks he made in a video of Mr Lee and the Christian religious icon, Jesus Christ, which he had uploaded onto Youtube.
A third charge of having harassed those who had viewed the video was earlier stood down by the prosecution, but it was withdrawn altogether on Tuesday, which was effectively a discharge amounting to an acquittal, the judge ruled.
However, after almost one and a half months since he was arrested for the offences, and having spent a total of 18 of those days in jail on remand, the teenager still does not know what his fate is, as far as sentencing is concerned.
This is because Judge Jasvendar has called for a “suitability for probation” assessment to be made by a probation officer with the help of a state-appointed psychologist.
A pre-sentence report by the probation officer is to be presented to the courts on 2 June.
The courts will then decide on sentencing.
The prosecution also agreed to a reduced bail sum of S$10,000, down from S$30,000; that the restrictions on Amos Yee on posting anything online be removed; and that there would no longer be any daily reporting to the police station for the teenager.
However, Amos Yee would have to remove the video and the blog post for which he was charged.
He has agreed to do so by midnight, Tuesday.
Amos Yee will also not be allowed to travel overseas.
In his submission in court, deputy public prosecutor Hay Hung Chun said the teenager’s “actions are far from being ‘noble’ or imbued with good intentions.”
“It was a calculated course of conduct undertaken for the sake of publicity and without regard to the damaging effects on the community.”
However, he added, given Yee’s age and profile, “it is clear that neither a sentence of a fine nor a term of imprisonment would be suitable in the circumstances.”
“At 16, 17-years old, I don’t think one should be holding the odium of a conviction,” DPP Hay told the courts.
“What he urgently needs is counselling and appropriate probation,” he added.
He said the focus should be on Yee’s “reintegration into society for his good and benefit”.
“It is not in our interest to keep him in remand.”
However, Amos Yee’s lawyer, Alfred Dodwell, told the courts that the teenager did not want probation and instead has instructed his lawyers that he would like to be sentenced to jail.
Mr Dodwell then took the courts through the teenager’s years as a student in school to show that his client was in fact not a troublemaker but was a good student.
Mr Dodwell said Amos Yee’s teachers in his schools have praised him for being “excellent in studies and conduct”, for getting along well with his classmates, was conscientious and disciplined in his studies, and that he had “displayed much creativity”.
Amos Yee was also praised for being a “responsible class monitor” in secondary school.
Mr Dodwell emphasised that his client had also been very cooperative with the courts – attending all hearings on time – and with the police.
Amos Yee had spent a total of 36 hours being interviewed by the police during its investigations and had been cooperative.
The defence then called on the courts to impose a fine or two weeks’ jail, taking into consideration the 18 days that Yee had already spent in remand.
After the lawyers had spoken, Judge Jasvendar called both sides, along with the teenager’s parents, into chambers.
After a lengthy delay, court proceedings resumed, and the judge ordered the pre-sentencing assessment to be conducted by the probation officer by 2 June.
“He has now agreed to the calling of the probation report, which is good,” Mr Dodwell said, referring to his client. “We’ll see what the conditions are and Amos will decide whether to accept the probation.”
“The judge was really trying hard to ensure that Amos does not end up with a criminal record,” Mr Dodwell said.
“In a sense, I do feel we have succeeded in setting him free,” he added, referring to how Amos Yee had always rejected bail conditions because they gagged him from expressing himself through his blog and other online platforms.
“He has no restrictions now save he can’t travel out of Singapore. I feel a sense of relief. But I am disappointed with the results. We are studying the written grounds and we shall consider [whether] to appeal or not.”
As for the teenager himself, he emerged after being released from custody at about 7pm, and was greeted by his parents, friends and supporters.
He was dressed in a dark blue t-shirt and shorts, with flip-flops.
He looked surprised by the attention but soon was smiling as he headed out to the taxi-stand, pursued by a posse of reporters and media cameramen.
When asked how he felt, the teenager said, “I don’t know if I should celebrate my release or mourn my sentence”.
Human Rights Watch issued the following statement following Amos Yee’s conviction:
“Criminalizing free expression by anyone who dares mock the powers that be is a tried and true practice of the Singapore government, and Amos Yee is the latest victim. Singapore excels at constructing excuses to justify its gagging exercises but the charges that were brought against Yee are a stretch even by Singapore’s usual practice. From an international rights perspective, nothing Amos Yee said about religion in his famous video about Lee Kuan Yew justified these criminal charges against him. Given what circulates on the internet these days, convicting Yee with transmitting an obscene representation is laughably arbitrary and a new low for restricting freedom of expression. Yee was right to point out that even the bail terms that barred him from using social media are a gag order were designed to strip him of his right to free expression.
“The reality is convicting Amos Yee was all about publicly punishing a youthful dissident who dared besmirch the image of the recently passed leader, and intimidating anyone else who might think of doing the same in the future. Singapore’s actions to criminalize Yee’s statements run contrary to international human rights standards and are a dangerous affront to freedom of expression. Singapore has once again proved that those who speak their minds in the city state do so at their own risk. No wonder the youth of Singapore are increasingly worried about their future – since their government seems doggedly determined to gag their words on social media, and shut down news portals putting out stories that doesn’t agree with the government’s political line. This is a dark day for freedom of expression in Singapore.”