Amos Yee at the State Court on 17 August 2016 (Photo – Terry Xu)

by Khush Chopra

Amos Yee is finally a free bird.

He finally gets the asylum he wanted in the United States but what has the debacle surrounding his persecution by Singapore authorities taught us?

For me, there are 3 major learning points to take away.

First and foremost we should learn from this experience and not prosecute children for holding an unacceptable opinion. He was a 16-year-old boy at the time of the material offenses he was charged with; let the children be.

Amos Yee was a 16 years old child when he was persecuted and remanded in prison for 53 days pending his trial for maintaining and articulating an unacceptable opinion.

He refused to give up his controversial views on religion though it was clear to me at least that it was his political views and in particular his condemnation of Lee Kuan Yew that rankled the powers that be the most.

Some naughty boys grow up to be successful men. Take a most relevant example that was pointed out to me in the American TV personality Seth MacFarlane who was raised a Catholic just like Amos Yee and just like Amos Yee turned against his religion and mocked it at a very young age.

Seth is today the creator of the highly successful American animated sitcom TV series “Family Guy”, a show that airs in Singapore that routinely mocks Christianity that has been the target of numerous taste and indecency complaints in America.

Alas, Amos Yee was not allowed the same privilege Seth MacFarlane was as a boy. Amos Yee the boy was imprisoned in Singapore under our sedition laws.

Nothing will ever change the fact that a 16-year-old boy was remanded for 53 days for airing his unacceptable views in Singapore. How can this have been right?

His eventual prison sentence of four weeks was backdated to start from his remand and he therefore in fact served almost twice the sentence time he eventually received!

Singapore has lost a vexatious and obnoxious kid who should have been reprimanded and counseled not prosecuted and jailed.

The takeaway here is that boys will be boys and they need space and time to grow not persecution and prison time.

Secondly, it has been found that he was persecuted for his political views in the guise of a prosecution for wounding religious feelings and disseminating obscene material online.

The fact of the matter is that sedition is inherently intertwined with politics. The crime of sedition is highly politicised and the Government’s prosecution of Amos Yee was doomed to be construed as a political enterprise.

Two US immigration courts have now called a spade a spade. Pinky our dear leader was upset with Amos Yee for denigrating his father but did not have the balls to call him out and instead unleashed the full venom of the organs of State up his tender ass using the cover of religious sensitivity and the arsenal of the land’s sedition laws.

Many Singaporeans including every religious fanatic bought the ploy hook line and sinker.

This trick worked in Singapore quite effectively and Amos was convicted but unfortunately the sham was laid thread bare in the United States in the asylum proceedings and appeal thereon.

A most damning indictment of the administration of justice in Singapore spelt out in technicolour detail in two separate judgments for the world to read to justify giving a young boy refuge from political persecution in his own country.

This is simply remarkable and unprecedented in the annals of legal history here save for the Privy Council tearing into the then Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin’s shambolic judgment against JBJ Jeyaratnam that was used to debar the politician.

That hurt no doubt as will this one. Not something Singaporeans should be proud of. It’s not our finest hour. A stinging slap in the face for Singapore and the system here.

Therefore the second take away is that the judgement of the three-member United States Board of Immigration Appeals upholding an earlier ruling from a lower court judge unequivocally means that Amos Yee’s persecution and imprisonment in Singapore was politically motivated to silence him. There are no two ways about this.

Shame on the PAP Government exposed for the world to see what it does to little boys that annoy them.

Third and finally and most importantly, we should all learn that there is a better response to religious sensitivity and hate speech.

There is a better way.

A distinction should be drawn in law and in our minds between an unacceptable viewpoint and violent rhetoric.

It is the latter that we should react to and should simply learn to respond calmly to the former if one cannot ignore that unacceptable viewpoint.

There should not be a law protecting the wounding of religious feelings. A law against inciting violence, any form of violence, is perfectly understood but a law for “wounding” religious “feelings” should be unnecessary.

We should be guided by the maxim “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will not hurt me”.

I equally take the view that prevention is better than cure. However, I differ from the Government in our view of what prevention in this context means.

The law essentially operates as a cure. It operates after religious feelings have been wounded.

Needless to say that in theory crime and it’s punishment do provide some deterrence but are not entirely effective in preventing one’s religious feelings from being wounded. That privilege belongs to the individual and communities affected.

It is rather silly to think that a law criminalising hate speech can achieve this aim effectively.

The Dalai Lama for example says: “Do not let the behaviour of others destroy your inner peace”.

People must be educated to entertain two opposing thoughts in their minds without taking offense to one which wounds their religious feelings. This is the best method of preventing the “wounding of religious feelings”.

I know the zealots reading this will scoff at the proposition presented here but zealots are by definition oversensitive pricks who need a kick in the back side not societies sympathy for their perpetually wounded feelings.

Zealots are the problem not loud mouths like Amos Yee. The zealots are now stunned by the final turn of events and are left licking their wounds.

Fundamentally though the question to ask is this: Who asked you to watch Amos Yee’s videos? A friend of mine put it this way:

“Singaporeans who were offended by him but who enjoy watching US comedians make fun of everything will soon see themselves made fun of. I never got the immense fuss over his video. He’s not forcing you to watch it.”

Take yet again the example of Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy TV series a show that airs in Singapore that routinely mocks Christianity. DVD’s of the show are readily available for purchase in Singapore. Yet where is the hue and cry that plagued Amos Yee’s videos?The show has not been banned in Singapore. Why not if they are as sacrilegious and blasphemous as Amos Yee’s videos. Why the double standards?

There is no human right to take offense codified into any law or universal charter. However many choose to be thin skinned and choose to take offense over this boy’s offense.

There is no such thing as a right not to be offended. Nowadays, everyone gets offended by everything. If your feelings get wounded that’s your problem surely. We all need to grow thicker skins rather than scream for state sponsored censorship.

Shame on all who took such grave offense and brayed for this teenager’s criminal prosecution. He was a very naughty BOY and should have been simply ignored or counseled.

To all the oversensitive religious fanatics who rejoiced in the imprisonment of a 17-year-old boy for being controversial and obnoxious know this; you should have turned the other cheek.

It would seem that Amos Yee has had the last laugh. He has escaped persecution and is now free. Now let’s wait to see what exactly he does with his new found freedom and lease on life.

I wish him well.

This was first published at Khush Chopra’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.

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