In a letter published in the Straits Times forum, the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore (ACLS) expressed their outrage at the assertion by the American courts that Singaporean blogger Amos Yee was persecuted by the Singapore Government, and the consequent impugning of the Singapore criminal justice system.
The letter continues as below:
“Singaporeans jealously guard the multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious harmony that we have.
When anti-social miscreants share their views with a view to incite hate, we fully back the efforts of the Attorney-General’s Chambers to prosecute and hopefully rehabilitate such individuals.
From our perspective, a finding that Mr Yee was persecuted is baseless and unwarranted.
Due process was followed and arguably considerable latitude was given to Mr Yee during his judicial hearings.
We recall that Mr Yee essentially rejected the chance of probation (a non-custodial sentence) during his first sentencing hearing, despite being ably represented at the time.
However, the fact remains that Singapore criminalises hate speech and the ACLS fully supports such a position in law. Other jurisdictions may take differing approaches and we think it best to agree to disagree with such jurisdictions.
Our social peace is too precious to sacrifice on the altar of unbridled free speech.
Make no mistake; there were multiple instances of hate speech. Characterising what Mr Yee said as political speech or his political opinion misses the point.
Hate is hate, however you cloak it, and we firmly believe that Singaporeans reject the politics of hate.
If America wants this misguided recalcitrant, it can have him.
But if Mr Yee wants to live in Singapore, all he has to do is abandon his hate or simply keep it to himself.”
Evidently, however, the lawyers at ACLS have failed to read the judgement delivered by the Immigration Judge Samuel B. Cole explaining how he had determined that Yee had been subjected to persecution by the Singapore government.
As Judge Cole reasoned in his judgement,
“Yee has produced evidence from which it is reasonable to believe that his persecution at the hands of the Singapore government was on account of his political opinion. Singapore’s stated reason for Yee’s prosecution was for his wounding religious feelings. As explained below, Singapore’s prosecution of Yee for wounding religious feelings was pretextual, as its real purpose was to stifle Yee’s political speech.”
He then wrote that to determine whether legal prosecution under laws of general applicability might be a pretext for persecuting an asylum applicant for his political speech, the court looked to factors such as “the nature of the crime and the severity of the punishment, as well as the applicant’s political opinion, the motives behind his actions, the nature of the act committed, the nature of the prosecution and its motives, and the nature of the law on which the prosecution is based.”
In examining these factors, Judge Cole said it was clear that Yee’s prosecution for wounding religious feelings and obscenity was just a pretext to silence his opinions.
Eight points to justify his opinion on Yee’s persecution
- The “Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead” video was scathing in its criticism of not just the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, but of the Singapore regime in general. About Mr Lee: “He was a dictator but managed to fool most of the world to think he was a democrat, … [D]uring your rule, you controlled the entire media and education, proliferating nationalistic propaganda on a daily basis, … Despite our voting rights, he is undoubtedly totalitarian.” About Singapore in general: “We are one of the richest countries in the world, but we have one of the highest income inequalities, highest poverty rates, and our government spends one of the lowest on healthcare and social security. The money spent on the public is so low, it’s more representative of a third world country, and yet the amount of taxes is one of the highest in first world countries.” So, the video contained harsh criticism of both Mr Lee and the Singapore government.
- Religion was only tangential to the video. The video was almost entirely about Mr Lee and Singapore, and its discussions of religion were only used to make a point about Yee’s dismal opinion of Mr Lee. In fact, religion took up only about 30 seconds of the video’s 8½ minute content.
- The public response to the video was entirely about its criticism of Mr Lee, not about its offence to religion. Yee and both his witnesses testified similarly about the nature of the public attention to the video, and their testimony went unrebutted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- The evidence presented showed that Yee’s prison sentence was unusually long and harsh, especially for a young offender.
- The terms of Yee’s pre-trial release prohibited him from posting to social media. These restrictions were also highly unusual and restrictive, and served the main purpose to silence Yee’s criticism of the government.
- Other people who had made disparaging comments about religions but who were not similarly critical of the Singapore regime had avoided prosecution. These included Calvin Cheng and Jason Neo. Both had made comments critical of Islam, equating Muslims with terrorists. Neither was charged.
- Regarding the obscenity charge related to the line drawing, many more-explicit pictures were available to the Singapore public and did not result in prosecutions. But this particular drawing had the face of Mr Lee superimposed on one of the figures (behind one with Margaret Thatcher’s head). This again raised the inference that the prosecution was politically motivated.
- The country condition reports and expert and lay witness testimony all describe that this is the modus operandi for the Singapore regime — critics of the government are silenced by civil suit for defamation or criminal prosecutions.
Based on those eight points, Judge Cole argued that though Yee’s prosecutions might have been legal under Singapore law, they clearly served a “nefarious purpose,” namely, to stifle political dissent. Thus, Yee had demonstrated that he suffered past persecution on account of his political opinion.
In examining the judgement and the letter from ACLS, one wonders if the learned lawyers at ACLS should have made their argument based on the crux of the judgement, and not sidestep the issues mentioned by trumpeting religious harmony without commenting on the findings by the Immigration Judge.