Why is Amos Being Punished before He Has Been Found Guilty?
Now that Amos’s trial has concluded we are all awaiting the verdict on Tuesday. It is abundantly clear that it has been a spectacular waste of taxpayers’ money and only serves one purpose: to intimidate anyone who might think of criticising Singapore’s royal family. A large number of Christians have come forward to say they were not offended by what Amos said in the video. As I said in my previous blog, “The Case of Amos Yee Proves We Have No Rule of Law”, if some Christians have called for banning the sale of Richard Dawkins’ or Christopher Hitchens’s books in Singapore and the authorities have taken no action they can hardly now take exception to Amos’s video. In addition the idea that Amos’s cartoon of LKY and Margaret Thatcher could deprave and corrupt the youth of Singapore makes Singapore a laughing stock internationally. Far worse is regularly posted online about British politicians and especially about Thatcher. As Amos says in his blog, he will be the first person in Singapore to be prosecuted for circulating an obscene image.
However I have already written about my views on the charges. What I am concerned with here is the fact that Amos’s rights to be treated as innocent until proven guilty have been violated. This has been a fundamental of English law, on which our legal system is based, since King John signed Magna Carta in 1215. Amos’s bail conditions exceeded the purposes for which bail is to be used and were needlessly stringent. They amounted to a violation of his fundamental rights to freedom of expression.
The main purpose of bail is to ensure that the accused attends court when he is required to do so and does not flee the jurisdiction, that he does not reoffend and that he does not attempt to interfere with any witnesses to change their testimony. This is set out in Article 94 of the Criminal Procedure Code:
(2) The conditions imposed in relation to an accused under subsection (1) may include the following requirements:
However Amos was unrepresented by a lawyer when he was first charged and bail was set. In such a situation, given that Amos is only 16 years old, the magistrate should have made bent over backwards to ensure Amos was treated fairly. This did not happen. Presumably the magistrate was worried that Amos would reoffend which is why he accepted the DPP’s argument for the necessity for such a restriction of Amos’s rights. But if Amos had reoffended he could have been re-arrested with his bailor losing his bail.
Singapore is out of line with most advanced countries and with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in treating anyone over the age of 16 as an adult which is why Amos was not afforded the protections that should be accorded to someone of his age. As a minor and a Singapore male with NS liability he will have to apply for an exit permit if he wishes to leave Singapore and is not likely to be a flight risk. Therefore it is difficult to understand why bail was set so high in the first place and why the magistrate refused to allow any member of the public to post bail for him. None of Amos’s alleged offences involve violence or are particularly serious which is a further reason why bail should have been set at a nominal amount.
Instead Amos has spent the past two weeks on remand presumably with adult prisoners. When he appeared in court on Thursday at his trial his feet and hands were shackled which was unnecessarily harsh. Many of those in the public gallery were shocked by this. Despite the shackling being patently unnecessary to prevent a diminutive youth like Amos escaping, the judge hearing the case did not ask for his restraints to be removed which is a worrying sign.
The shackling of Amos stands in stark contrast to the way the police made no efforts to protect him despite reports that he had received numerous threats to harm or kill him. He was on his own when he was punched by a much older and bigger man. We have been told that the police have arrested a suspect but so far no one has been identified or charged. This is odd given the speed with which Amos was arrested and charged.
The prosecution and the State media have also opportunistically tried to exploit the fact that Amos himself decided in response to online comments to submit to an examination at IMH. My understanding is that he did this in response to online taunts that he was suffering from mental illness. The DPP tried to make it a condition of bail that Amos undergo another examination at IMH after Amos had decided that further sessions would be a waste of time. This seems to have been an attempt to twist the original intention behind Amos’s initial deliberate decision to go to IMH and smear Amos as suffering from some disorder which could then be blamed for his criticism of LKY and the PAP. It is a time-honoured tactic of totalitarian regimes to tar their opponents as mentally ill. Such tactics were used against dissidents in the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Amos has demonstrated more courage than most adults twice his age in Singapore. He has refused to buckle under tremendous pressure and has stuck to his principles. He has refused to take down his posts or to agree not to post content because to do so would be an admission of guilt. I can only hope that his bravery is vindicated by the judge’s decision on Tuesday. The omens are not good. However his treatment by the PAP Government has already been extraordinarily vindictive and damaging to a child. One can only hope that pressure from Singaporeans and international condemnation of Amos Yee’s treatment will stop a repeat of such actions in the future.