Amos walks out free; but wants to appeal conviction
by Wan Ting Koh and Arin Fong
AMOS Yee, aged 16 going on 17, has got what he wanted: A jail term. Four weeks. Because he’s been in remand for over 50 days, he walked out of court a free man/boy. But the chapter isn’t closed; Amos intends to appeal his conviction, according to his lawyer.
Earlier today, Justice Jasvender Kaur decided that:
a. Amos didn’t need a Medical Treatment Order which would compel him to receive medical help because the psychiatric assessment was that he wasn’t suffering from any mental disorder. He had been remanded at the Institute of Mental Health over the past two weeks for doctors to decide if he had autism spectrum disorder, which is a “development disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavourial challenges”.
b. He didn’t need to go to a Reformative Training Centre, a boot camp of sorts, because he seemed to have undergone a “seismic change” in attitude. He was remorseful for his actions.
The judge also took his young age and lack of maturity into account when she sentenced him to one week imprisonment for the circulation of obscene material, and three weeks for making offensive or wounding remarks against Christianity. Amos was prosecuted as an adult because he had crossed his 16th birthday. Civil rights activists here and groups such as Amnesty International have questioned the need for court action against a youth whom they say was merely exercising his right to free speech.
Much of today’s judgment turned on the assessment of Dr Cai Yi Ming of IMH, who said that early access to the Internet and early fame had led to Amos Yee’s over-confidence. He said that he “shows scant regard to the feelings of others and focuses on his needs most of the time”.
The doctor also reported that Amos has “promised not to reoffend as he has realised what he did was against the law and could disrupt social harmony”, and that he had used his intelligence “in the wrong ways”.
Before pronouncing sentence, Judge Jasvender Kaur noted that Dr Cai’s report said that “from an early age, he has been trapped in the net”. Amos was “unable to discern the untruths in the cyberspace and believes that one has complete freedom of expression without any responsibility”.
“It then goes on to state that he has much to learn on how to make decisions wisely, so as to keep his behaviours within the law.”
To Amos, she suggested that he re-think his decision not to continue with his formal education, as this would help him socialise with his peers. She also suggested that the family avail itself to counselling, an option that his lawyer Alfred Dodwell said had been catered for.
A tired-looking Amos emerged from the courtroom with his parents today. He declined to talk to the media. But Mr Dodwell said he would appeal against the conviction. He made a distinction between Amos’ feeling of remorse and whether he had committed a crime: “Whether this was a crime or not still remains a question that we want to determine in the High Court. This will go on appeal, and it will be heard before a High Court judge and we will canvass the argument as to why the judge was wrong in relation to the conviction.”
It is not clear if this is a contradiction of Amos’ admission of guilt. Mr Dodwell did not give the grounds for appeal but it is likely to revolve on freedom of speech and whether Amos had indeed crossed the line. This has been an issue with civil rights activists who maintain, among other things, that what Amos did was within the bounds of free expression and that Christians themselves have spoken up for him.
In March, Amos had uploaded videos of himself making comments that denigrated Christians and had circulated obscene pictures of the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and the late British premier Margaret Thatcher. His videos, posted two days before Mr Lee’s State funeral on March 29, prompted people to ask if the police action arose from what he had said about the late PM. An initial charge that referred to this has been dropped. The prosecution decided to proceed on the two charges and he was found guilty on May 12.
Both inside and outside the courtroom, Amos has strenuously upheld his right to free speech and has becoming a cause célèbre with civil rights activists, including those in Taiwan and Hong Kong. But some of his antics have not gone down well with more conservative segments of the population, such as his tirades against his own parents and his “fake” allegations (to show that the media can be easily manipulated) that his bailor had molested him. A man slapped him while he was on his way to court on April 30 and, in turn, had a three week jail term slapped on him.
If Mr Dodwell’s appeal is approved, the State is likely to reiterate its view that the case is “not about the freedom of speech and the diversity of views”, as Deputy Public Prosecutor Hay Hung Chun said today before the judgment was handed down.
“It is about the abuse of these freedoms. Unbridled speech without limits does not exist in any known society. Each society defines its own values and protects them. Religious harmony remains a key value in our society. So too is public decency.”
Mr Hay said that even though the media had reported extensively about his remand period, they omitted mentioning that the period has been “entirely the result of his own decisions”. Amos had breached bail conditions deliberately, declined probation, and rejected suggestions that he voluntarily continue psychiatric evaluation and counselling. His recalcitrance and lack of remorse prompted the prosecution’s suggestion that he be assessed for suitability at an RTC, Mr Hay said.
But given Dr Cai’s report as well as Amos’ move to remove the offending materials, which he described as “a significant repudiation of his previous posturing”, there have been “material changes which merit appropriate sentencing”, he told the court. He asked for a one-day jail term.
Mr Dodwell has two weeks to file an appeal.
Featured image by Arin Fong.
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