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.
It is very disgraceful that the PAP government of first world country, Singapore, will want to lock a 16 yrs old child up just because of the child’s different views! A child is a child. It’s barbaric to chain and lock up a child. It takes 18 years for a child to be adult. Barbarians have not respect on it. Free Amos Yee!
I am a Sri Lankan. When Lee Quan You became the leader of Singapoer Sri Lanka was way ahead. Then we had lot of freedom and tamils started a major war. On the other hand Singapore is a major developed nation. If SL leaders limited the freedom of tamils then Sri Lanka would not had a war. Be faithfull for Lee Quan You.
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You are incorrect. Sri Lanka was not way ahead of Singapore. When LKY came to power our GDP per capita was the highest in Asia and had been for many decades. The civil war in SL started not because the Tamils had too many freedoms but because like Nazi Germany people like you disenfranchised and discriminated against the most highly educated minority. Democracy and freedom of expression leads to innovation and creativity. It is no accident that the richest countries and cities are the most free
Abey Yes the genocide against the Tamil people shocked the world and now Sri Lanka has overturned its President and the war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan Military are being pursued robustly.
You can’t make any comparison between Singapore of the 1950s and Sri Lanka. I very much doubt that LKY would have had any success on a larger stage or a physically larger and inverse territory. It’s easier to run a town with an iron fist.
You also seem to confuse Rule of Law with laws and rule abiding.
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What you’re writing is insane and clearly shows you are simply against the Tamils. As far as I know Kenneth’s dad is Ceylonese – meaning Tamil Sri Lankan in today’s parlance. Kenneth is right. The war started not because of the silly reason you give of Tamils being given too much freedom, but rather because the racist Sinhalese like yourself were given too much freedom – to be prejudice against the Tamils. So please get the facts straight! You really think you can come here and spill your hatred for Tamils? Silly fellow. Kenneth is one half a Tamil boy!
I’m an atheist and an apostate of Islam.
The recent events surrounding Amos Yee is really scary, the fact that there are sensitivity laws, lets be honest, blasphemy laws for the non believers, is appalling.
You drove a key point home when you hypothesize the banning of the works of Hitchens and Dawkins because the religious might get offended.
But what the religious fail to notice is when they try to indoctrinate atheists into their religions by guilt tripping or telling them they’ll go to hell for not believing in a god, that’s offensive, yes it’s offensive to me but it doesn’t hurt my feelings, instead I’d like to dialogue with people who make that ostentatious claims that there is a god and I will be spending eternity in hellfire. I know it would be a practice in futility to convince someone so entrenched in their belief but it isn’t about us, it’s about on lookers who might be on the fence and this dialogue may help them make up their minds.
When I looked through LKY’s autobiographies, I was shocked how he could say such blatantly racist remarks without anyone batting an eyelid.
And here where he compared us to Dogs.
I admire the endurance Singaporeans have for hardship.
I’ve said it somewhere else and I’ll say it again here.
LKY may have died but his malfeasance lingers on through his sycophants and his institutions.
Many Singaporeans are still in a state of stupor, blindly worshipping the PAP and the Lees. Until they are ready to be unplugged from the Matrix, they remain as our enemies.
I refer to the quote by Lord Bingham, “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.”
If you read his statement, it states that “all persons and authorities … should be BOUND BY and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly made…” Even by Lord Bingham’s definition, then, the “rule of law” does not exclude being “ruled by law”.
My point is that the State and the leaders are not bound by laws as required if there is to be rule of law
Really? On what basis do you make this assertion? In an interview, when asked about the seemingly controversial libel suits, the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew said that “the same laws applied to [him].” This is as clear as it gets. The State and leaders do feel bound to respect the laws of the land and the rule of law.
Coming to your statement on the UNCRC. International treaties government the relationships between states in public international law, not the relationship between the state and the people within its territorial boundaries in a purely domestic legal dispute. Also, as the court recognised at paragraphs 28 and 29 of the judgement of Yong Vui Kong v Public Prosecutor, Singapore is a dualist state, and international obligations are only legally enforceable when they are directly incorporated into domestic law. Though that case only referred to customary international law, treaty obligations work on the same principle.
Really? Why was Lee Kuan Yew not prosecuted for his many racist remarks intended to wound the racial or religious feelings of minorities? Why were he and his son not prosecuted over receiving discounts in the HPL saga when HPL as a property developer needs the approvals of many government agencies and stat boards? Why did LKY get away with using an SIA arcraft to fly his wife home from the UK when she was not a member of the government?
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Did any one sue him? No. If you think that there was a crime committed, why don’t you lodge a police report against him? The public prosecutor cannot charge someone without there being a case lodged against him/her first.
Oh, another problem with your blog post relates to your statement on Art. 12(1) of the Singapore Constitution. If you’ve read it, it states “entitled to equal protection”, not equal prosecution. So it doesn’t matter if there are thousands of unknown persons who have not, hitherto, been charged in court. They will have to face the music for their actions before the law at some point. What matters is that every one is equally protected. I’d argued that it is because of this provision that Amos Yee is in court. You can’t simply denigrate a religion without facing the consequences, even if it is just for one minute in the video.
“You can’t simply denigrate a religion without facing the consequences, even if it is just for one minute in the video.” Have you even seen what LKY said about Islam? With proper Rule of Law protections in place or confidences in the Rule of Law, LKY would have been charged, no matter who he was. That he never was charged, proves my point.
To “admin”: It is amazing that you cherrypick a quote, take it out of it’s original context, to attempt to bolster your straw man argument. The opening statement of my comment was, “Did any one sue him? No. If you think that there was a crime committed, why don’t you lodge a police report against him? The public prosecutor cannot charge someone without there being a case lodged against him/her first.” I have to reiterate my stance, in case it gets lost in transition – the criminal justice system does not and cannot act unilaterally to charge anyone as it sees fit. This was the case with Amos Yee, and with any one else. There are proper procedures to follow, and if someone thinks that Lee Kuan Yew has committed a criminal offence, they must report it first, before the case can be taken up by the public prosecutors.
Further, even by the definition of the Rule of Law suggested by Mr Jeyaretnam, he has not proven that guarantees to uphold the Rule of Law in Singapore have been absent or diminished in any way. There is also no reason, provided by Mr Jeyaretnam, to suggest that we should lose our confidence and faith in the legal system in Singapore.
Filbert Lam, I find your comments disingenuous. The fact that no one dared to make a police report about Lee Kuan Yew’s racist remarks proves my point about rule of law in Singapore. Undoubtedly no action would have been taken had reports been made. On the precedent of what happened after Tang Liang Hong made police reports about Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Loong, Goh Chok Tong and the other members of the Cabinet during the 1997 GE, those making police reports would have found themselves on the receiving end of defamation suits which Lee Kuan Yew would have swiftly won. They would have undoubtedly been bankrupted. There are numerous other occasions when the AG has declined to prosecute Ministers such as the infamous materialisation inside a polling booth case, also in 1997 at Cheng San. Your comments that no one made a police report about Lee Kuan Yew is akin to a Communist dictator setting up two separate boxes, one for Yes votes and one for No votes, watching how people voted and then proclaiming that he got 99% of the vote in a free election.
Mr Jeyaretnam, please do not make unsubstantiated statements. “Undoubtedly no action would have been taken had reports been made” … “They would have undoubtedly been bankrupted”… “There are numerous other occasions when the AG has declined to prosecute Ministers such as the infamous materialisation inside a polling booth case, also in 1997 at Cheng San.”
These are all unsubstantiated comments. Random references of Tang Liang Hong is of no relevance to this issue. Even if you could point to Mr Tang’s situation as a gross political sham, you can’t extrapolate from this to make broad sweeping statements.
“Your comments that no one made a police report about Lee Kuan Yew is akin to a Communist dictator setting up two separate boxes, one for Yes votes and one for No votes, watching how people voted and then proclaiming that he got 99% of the vote in a free election.”
Finally, your comparison is unclear. Are you trying to compare the treatment of reports against political figures in Singapore to pseudo-elections? Or are you trying to compare Lee Kuan Yew to a Communist dictator? Please make this clear.
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