Amos Yee - Disagreeing graciously

Within the last month, Amos Yee has become the latest in a string of individuals who have exhibited insensitivity and poor judgement with their social media postings.

Let’s review what has transpired: a 16-year-old boy posted a series of insensitive, even disturbing commentaries to the chagrin of a wider community. Instead of addressing the gravity of his actions, what ensued was an escalating raising of pitchforks, people across different ages and backgrounds baying for blood, some literally. 

When emotions get the better of us, we lose the sensibility to know where to draw the line. Some of us have gone well beyond the bounds of decency, in many cases being more offensive – vulgar and threatening even – than the original post we objected to.

It is neither a proportionate response, nor the mark of a civilised society.

Tasteless videos and posts are no excuse for responding with vindictive attacks and threats of unspeakable violence. There is a difference between objecting, however strongly, to something that offends us, and meting out an eye for an eye, or worse.

Vengeance is not justice. The way we respond to offence can reflect more poorly on ourselves than the original offender.

We don’t have to be this way.

We can disagree and still remain civil. We can register our objection to an offence, and still do so graciously. We must, if we want to live as a society that is mature in dealing with things we don’t like or agree with.

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Why did newspaper reject SKM’s statement on Amos Yee?

There are several troubling things about the way our local mainstream media is reporting the Amos Yee case.
First, there was the false impression given by a Straits Times report that Amos Yee’s mother had made a police report against her son.

And then there is the utter silence in the mainstream media of the vicious and vulgar threats made against Amos Yee, including one by a grassroots leader and a pro-PAP Facebook page.

And now, a third issue has emerged – the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) itself has said a local newspaper has refused  to publish or report its statement on Amos Yee.

related: Reaction of some is “more offensive, vulgar & threatening” than Amos Yee’s post

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What exactly was Amos Yee’s crime?

The Amos Yee saga has got me thinking about how we as a society deal with “non-mainstream individuals”. While I do not profess to agree with Yee’s erstwhile sentiments, I do wonder if we have overreacted to what is essentially an angry teenager’s rant about society.

Sure, Yee’s statements are annoying but when does annoying behaviour become a crime? Does that justify handcuffs and the weight of our court system on the paltry shoulders of a teen?

The charges against Yee are that he has contravened the Penal Code and the Protection from Harassment Act by insulting Christians in a video he uploaded shortly after the death of Mr Lee Kaun Yew. Based on what I have read about Yee’s video and conservations with people who have viewed the contents, I understand that it was perhaps more insulting to Mr Lee than to Christians per se. The comments about Christianity do not appear to be any more radical than old and often repeated criticisms against the church from international comedians and renowned writers. The late Sir Terry Pratchett has certainly said much worse without coming off badly.

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Amos Yee and the hypocrisy of some responsible speech advocates

In condemning Yee’s hate speech, some have done the opposite of what they claim to believe in. Instead of exercising responsible speech, a number of people and one radio station have irresponsibly made callous comments about Yee.

On Saturday, 4 April, ONE FM 91.3 posted an image on its Facebook page, taunting Yee with the prospect of a rough life in jail. The picture was captioned:

“Hi Amos!! Call Us when U arrive… Love, Your Boys…XOXO”. It was posted with the message: “Amos is gonna have some new friends soon.”
Needless to say, the post was not well received and it was quickly taken down. But it gives us an insight into how the radio station is willing to treat Yee callously —further damaging his reputation — just to capitalise on the public attention that has been showered on this case.

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Sexual and physical threats made against Amos Yee

16-year old Amos Yee, who is spending the weekend in remand, is again the target of online comments which apparently advocate violence against him.

In particular, sexual violence. Some of these comments rather gleefully and apparently hope Amos Yee would be raped in prison.

Amos Yee has been charged for three counts by the authorities for offending the religious sentiments of Christians, for an obscene cartoon on his blog, and for causing “distress” to some who had viewed the video Amos Yee made on the death of Singapore’s former prime minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew. The charge sheet seems to say this meant Amos Yee had harassed some of those distressed by the video.

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Letter to PA about threat made by alleged grassroots leader

Dear sir / ma’am, I am not sure if you are aware of the incident where a reported grassroots leader from the Telok Blangah area is said to have made a public threat of physical violence against a 16-year old boy who had created and posted an online video about Lee Kuan Yew and the Christian religion.

The grassroots leader, one Jason Tan, posted on Facebook the following threat:

“For me, I would cut his dick and put in his mouth for blemish Jesus Christ”.
Pls see here:

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Police report filed against grassroots leader who threatened Amos Yee online

A concerned Singaporean citizen, Mr Lee, has filed a police report against Jason Tan Kok Whee, believed to be a grassroots leader at Telok Blangah over a statement the latter made online directed at 16-year old Amos Yee.

In his police complaint, Mr Lee said that Mr Tan’s statement is a criminal threat to Yee. Mr Lee added, “I am seriously distressed by Jason Tan’s statement which bears the intention to harm Amos Yee physical and sexually. I have checked the penal code of Singapore and it seems that Jason Tan have breached the laws and should be liable to be arrested and be charged in the courts.”

Mr Lee also explained that Mr Tan has likely breached the law in making that comment against Yee, particularly penal code section 503*, 504, 507 and 508. Mr Lee added that Mr Tan should be punished according to the penal code section 506**.

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To the 20 plus who made police reports against Amos Yee

I wish I knew who you were. I know the name of one of you, a 52-year-old lawyer called Chia Boon Teck, and that’s only because the press interviewed him. This Mr Chia had earlier written to the Straits Times, saying that:

“I have heard many disrespectful jokes and opinions regarding Mr Lee Kuan Yew over the past few weeks.

With his death, let all Singaporeans stop tolerating such disrespectful comments made against Mr Lee and take the individuals who make them to task, by raising the issue with the relevant authorities or the individuals’ respective professional or governing bodies.”

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What Amos Yee is going through is far bigger than just one boy
Reuters/REUTERS - Amos Yee eats a banana as he arrives with his father to the State Courts for a pre-trial conference in Singapore April 17, 2015. The Singaporean has been charged with harassment and insulting a religious group for comments he made on social media about former premier Lee Kuan Yew and Christians soon after Lee's death, authorities said on March 31, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su 

And that brings me to yet another issue: how do we, as Singaporeans, react to things that we don’t like? Do we walk away? Do we engage each other to debate our perspectives? Are we willing to admit the existence of views we don’t like – even views we find abhorrent – because we believe in bigger principles of freedom and expression?

Or do we just stamp our feet and appeal to authorities to remove what we don’t like? Do we prioritise our desire to never be challenged or offended above someone else’s right to speak his or her mind? From Amos’ case – judging by the vindictiveness of some adults in wanting to see a kid go down – it appears that despite 50 years of education, progress and development, we’re still in the latter category. Decades of nation-building have not taught us to engage and to talk, only to appeal to authority to fix things that are hard for us to take. Years of education and exposure to the wider world have not taught us to respond with grace to things that we strongly disagree with; we still insist that everyone conform to a narrow band of opinion and feeling, that there are “right” ways to think, “right” ways to speak, “right” ways to act.

If this is true, then we have far bigger problems than Amos Yee.

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What is Amos Yee’s problem? Ours, actually

By now, it would be completely understandable to find Amos Yee’s antics tiresome. Even the strongest advocates for free speech has to admit that banging your head against a brick wall a second time, when the first has already given you a nasty bruise, is really not the smartest thing to do.

Amos’s latest romp saw him uploading the same video that won him his sedition charge to his blog, in a bid to raise funds for his legal fees. This was in flagrant violation of court orders for him not to upload anything. And to cap it, he arrives in court eating a banana. He has since updated his blog with a new fund-raiser notification, sans said video. The sensible, or wish-he-was-sensible, might ask, was it that difficult for him to do so in the first place?

Did Amos cared that he violated court orders? Perhaps at his age he does not know the implications of his actions. Perhaps he did not have good advise, particularly the legal advise that he clearly and desperately needs. Perhaps we can excuse him for being a child. But none of it takes away the pain and fear of his parents, who would likely be vexed at the slippery slope he is on. No amount of bravado chest-thumping, of declaring Amos’s innocence, takes away the desire for his parents to make the safer choice for him, even if that choice is not agreeable with our good senses or desires.

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 Lawyers On The Defensive 

The advice given in the common proverb is: "never look a gift horse in the mouth". Simply, when given a horse, it would be bad manners to inspect the horse's mouth to see if it has bad teeth. It is rude to wish for more by assessing its value.
While we are all eternally grateful when three lawyers came forward to act pro bono for a little boy clamped in hand cuffs and ankle shackles, their long winded press statement is fast providing fodder for conspiracy theorists across the island. Lawyers are supposed to sally forth with a vigorous defence, not throw their clients under the bus before court is even convened. The horseshit is embedded in paragraph nine:

"9. We would state categorically that we – the Defence Counsel – disapprove of what Amos Yee has posted."
The elements for the done deal are clearly spelled out in 10(d): "To advise him on the sentencing options including those that specifically deal with young offenders."

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Amos Yee bailed out by counsellor; gets 3 lawyers

AMOS Yee left remand at Changi Prison, where he spent the last four nights, after a family and youth counsellor posted the 16-year-old's $20,000 bail yesterday.

The teenager, whose online rant against Christianity landed him in trouble, smiled and waved to cameras as he walked out of the State Courts at 7pm with his mother by his side, and his father following some distance behind.

Just an hour before that, he was escorted to the bail centre in handcuffs and leg shackles.

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  • 1. We, the lawyers acting for Amos Yee Pang Sang (“Amos Yee”), issue this statement to explain the reasons behind our coming forward to act for him.
  • 2. The Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules (the “PCR”) lay down fundamental obligations of an Advocate and Solicitor, and in particular, the following two obligations -
  • a. First, to maintain the Rule of Law and assist in the administration of justice [Rule 2(2)(a)] and;
  • b. Second, to facilitate access to justice by members of the public [Rule 2(2)(d)].
  • 3. We – Counsel for the Defence – acting pro bono in the present case firmly believe that we are serving both fundamental obligations in acting for Amos Yee.
  • 4. First, as officers of the Court, the Defence Counsel will assist the court in coming to its fair and just decision in this matter.
  • 5. Second, the fundamental tenet of access to justice is enhanced if any person – including a 16-year-old accused of criminal offences – is represented by lawyers, instead of being left to navigate the criminal justice system without legal representation.
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Amos Yee has been bailed out by a counsellor

The 16-year-old had been in remand since last Friday as his parents did not post bail for him

Amos Yee has been bailed out by family and youth counsellor Mr Vincent Law on Tuesday evening, reported TheStraits Times.

Mr Law, 51, said: "I'm a Christian and it seems that the charge said that he made disparaging remarks against Christianity. I'm a Christian and I'm stepping up to say that I'm not offended."

The counsellor added that he hopes to counsel the teenager.
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Release Amos Yee from your anger

As Singaporeans, we are thankful for the laws of our land and trust in our courts. Our peace and freedoms in Singapore attest to that.

In regard to Amos Yee:
  • We are not offended by Amos Yee's statements.
  • His opinions about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ neither threaten our faith nor diminish our love for Him.
  • Please release Amos Yee from your anger.
  • We forgive him and desire he have a full life of contribution to his community ahead of him.
 A reminder to my Christian brothers and sisters:
Those in our faith have a keen understanding for what it means to be on the wrong side of righteousness, we know we receive God's love through no merit of our own.
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In a twist to the Amos Yee saga, Christian netizen Wally Tham has created a petition to ask the Singapore Government to release Amos Yee. According to Wally, he says that he is not offended by Amos Yee's statements and asked that Amos be released. He reminded Christians to be more forgiving towards Amos despite his "ugly" words. 

The petition:
  • As Singaporeans, we are thankful for the laws of our land and trust in our courts. Our peace and freedoms in Singapore attest to that.
  • In regard to Amos Yee: We are not offended by Amos Yee's statements. His opinions about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ neither threaten our faith nor diminish our love for Him. Please release Amos Yee. We forgive him and desire he have a full life of contribution to his community ahead of him.
  • A reminder to my Christian brothers and sisters: Those in our faith has a keen understanding for what it means to be on the wrong side of righteousness, we know we receive God's love through no merit of our own. 
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#freeAmosYee @ Hong Lim Park
The Amos Yee Saga
The Amos Yee affair
Amos Yee - Disagreeing graciously
Amos Yee - A Mother's Pain
Arrest of Amos Yee makes world news
13-year-old Amos Yee wins top film prizes
Convention on the Rights of the Child