The Case against Amos Yee Proves We Have No Rule of Law
The Amos Yee prosecution is yet another clear demonstration of the fact that we have no rule of law in Singapore.
How would you define rule of law?
Tom Bingham, the late former Chief Justice of England and Wales and a leading authority on human rights law, defined “rule of law” as being the case:
That all persons and authorities within the state, whether public or private, should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly made, taking effect (generally) in the future and publicly administered in the court.
This means that the rulers and agencies of government are not above the law but are also bound to act in accordance with the law as administered by an independent and impartial judiciary. It also means that everyone is entitled to due process and not to be detained for anything but the shortest possible time without being charged and judged in a court of law.
What we have in Singapore instead is “rule by law”. There are well-developed legal codes and enforcement but the state and the rulers do not feel themselves bound to act in accordance with the law. Furthermore there is no independent check on their authority.
Amos has been charged under the Penal Code, presumably under Article 298, which makes it an offence to “utter words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious or racial feelings of any person.” He was also charged under Article 292 with electronic transmission of an obscene image.
The third charge was under the new Protection from Harassment Act with making an online video containing remarks about Mr Lee that offended people who viewed it.
The relevant clause is:
4.—(1) No person shall by any means —
(a)use any threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour; or
(b)make any threatening, abusive or insulting communication,
which is heard, seen or otherwise perceived by any person (referred to for the purposes of this section as the victim) likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.
The second and third charges are patently ridiculous.
The Protection from Harassment Act is plainly intended to cover those on the receiving end of threatening, abusive or insulting communications and not random bystanders or onlookers. This is made clear by the phrase “any person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.” It is difficult to see how the eleven complainants could reasonably claim to have been caused harassment, alarm or distress. The only people who could conceivably claim that are Lee Kuan Yew himself or his children. The PM, as a public figure, would be expected to have a higher threshold for offence.
Unfortunately the prosecution of Amos for causing offence is supported by several cases in the UK, to which the PAP Government looks for direction for much of its legislation. which is supposed to be a bastion of free speech, has jailed several individuals who were guilty of nothing more than making offensive posts on social media. Though some of these convictions have been reversed on appeal they have had a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
It is only in the US that the right to offensive speech is protected under the First Amendment. This was shown in the case of the Westboro Baptist Church who picketed funerals of military personnel killed in Iraq with signs proclaiming that it was a judgement from God because of America’s tolerance of homosexuality. The US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in a decision in favour of their right to demonstrate stating: “What Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, is entitled to ‘special protection’ under the First Amendment and that protection cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was outrageous.”
It is absurd to suggest that Christians could be offended by Amos’s assertions that Christians are greedy and that Jesus Christ is bad. They did not have to watch the video. If this prosecution succeeds what will be the next step? Will Christian Fundamentalists in Singapore succeed in getting the works of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens banned in Singapore? Richard Dawkins is the author of “The God Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens wrote “God Is Not Great”. After that presumably the PAP will have to ban the teaching of evolution and other scientific doctrines that contradict religious texts.
The charge of transmitting an obscene image is also absurd when the figures were abstract. No genitalia were shown. In fact the image was more sedate than the ones most people would encounter in any art gallery and were considerably less sexual than most of the images seen daily by people of all ages on television and the Internet. To prosecute Amos for this makes Singapore a laughing stock internationally. Furthermore to prosecute a child for transmitting obscene images is hypocritical when Singapore fails to monitor paedophiles adequately and protect children from sexual exploitation.
Also the prosecution of Amos demonstrates that we have no rule of law in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew made countless and well-documented racist remarks about every minority in Singapore without ever being prosecuted for wounding the racial and religious feelings of those minorities.
There is this for instance:
If, for instance, you put in a Malay officer who’s very religious and who has family ties in Malaysia in charge of a machine gun unit, that’s a very tricky business. We’ve got to know his background… I’m saying these things because they are real, and if I don’t think that, and I think even if today the Prime Minister doesn’t think carefully about this, we could have a tragedy.
- Straits Times, September 19, 1999 on Malays in the Singapore Armed Forces
Also in his interview with National Geographic magazine in 2009 LKY complained that, “The influence from the Middle East has made them [Malays] have head-dresses for no rhyme or reason.”
He went on to say:
“Well, we make them say the national pledge and sing the national anthem but suppose we have a famine, will your Malay neighbour give you the last few grains of rice or will she share it with her family or fellow Muslim or vice versa?”
Of course no one dared to make a police report about LKY like the 22 individuals who claimed that Amos’s video offended them. Yet I do not see how anyone can argue that LKY’s words were not intended to wound the racial and religious feelings of the Malay minority.
LKY’s comments have enabled countless offensive and racist comments from members of the PAP yet there have been no prosecutions. There was the incident in Parliament in 1992 when PAP MP Choo Wee Khiang said that when he went down to Little India at 4pm it was already dark “not because there was no light, but because there were too many Indians around there“. What he said in Parliament may have been protected by Parliamentary privilege but his colleagues should have punished him. After all when he was an MP, J B Jeyaretnam was frequently fined and suspended by the PAP MPs. Yet even though he was an adult he was allowed to apologise by PM Goh and the matter was closed.
Similarly despite numerous police reports the AG choses not to prosecute Jason Neo for his offensive posting in 2011 equating Muslim schoolchildren with terrorists. Admittedly it would have been the height of hypocrisy to prosecute Jason Neo when he only expressed the same views as his leader LKY.
Article 12.—(1) of our much ignored and abused Constitution states that All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law. Yet in charging Amos Yeo, a child of 16, the AG has clearly ignored this when so many others from LKY downwards have been able to get away with similar offences.
What makes the lack of rule of law and equal treatment under the law even more glaring is that Amos would be regarded as a child in most jurisdictions. In Singapore, under the Children and Young Persons Act, only juveniles up to the age of 16 enjoy special protection. Despite being a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the PAP Government has not extended the protections under the Convention to children over 16 and below 18. Thus what is barbaric treatment of a child, particularly one accused of a non-violent offence, by the standards of other advanced countries, is perfectly legal in Singapore. This treatment includes handcuffing him and setting his bail amount far in excess of what would be in line with the seriousness of his offence. The judge also refused to allow anyone except Amos’s parents to post bail for him when someone made a police report that he had violated his bail conditions. This resulted in Amos being confined in a police cell almost certainly with adult offenders which would be a serious violation of his rights under the UN Convention.
Amos Yee said in his video that we had no freedom in Singapore. Ironically the authorities’ actions to suppress him and scare Singaporeans have proved his contention beyond a shadow of doubt.