Some Further Thoughts on the Amos Case
There were a few further points that I want to add or clarify with respect to my previous post “Amos Yee: Singapore’s Youngest Political Prisoner”.
Decision to Send Amos to Reformative Training Disproportionate and Clearly Political
Firstly I stand by my statement that I am revulsed and appalled by the decision to send Amos to reformative training. This is usually reserved for youths involved in drug trafficking, loan shark running and breaking and entering. Many of them are triad or gang members. I managed to find a report of a 17 year old Briton who successfully avoided being sent to a Reformative Training Centre (RTC) and received a prison sentence instead. But he was already on probation for theft and committed a string of more than 30 burglaries after breaking his probation and going on the run:
“A 17-YEAR-OLD Briton yesterday got the prison term he asked for, after having gone on a spree of mischief, criminal trespass and theft while out on police bail and serving a probation order for earlier offences.
Grant Callum Pearson, who objected strongly to being sent for reformative training, was given nine months by a district court; the sentence will, however, be backdated to the start of his period of remand on May 22.
The teenager had told the court earlier that his remand, served in Changi Prison, had given him time to think about what he had done and to turn over a new leaf. He also claimed to have found out that the dynamics among youths in reformative training revolved around gangs and skin colour, and that he would be a misfit there.
The court heard that Pearson, then studying at an international school, was being investigated for fraudulent possession of a CashCard in March; he was a no-show for his court date on March 27, and a warrant went out for his arrest. While on the run, he committed about 30 offences. With his alleged accomplices Rhamir Colita Johnston and Huang Ruochu, both 16, he trespassed into a house in Pasir Panjang and homes in the East Coast areas to steal…
Pearson had pleaded guilty to a charge of mischief – smashing a car window – and four charges each of criminal trespass and theft; 23 other charges were taken into consideration.
His slate of transgressions predate the CashCard offence. In April last year, he was given 18 months’ probation for theft and criminal breach of trust.
I have put into italics the comment that even someone who had committed a string of serious offences was scared to go to a RTC. The judge agreed with the accused and sentenced him to nine months jail instead which would be reduced automatically to six months.
Other cases that I came across include the 19 year old head of a secret society who assaulted a student and his own members for wanting to leave the gang. The report says:
“He first joined Sio Kun Tong secret society of the 18 group in 2008 as a fighter.
But he rose through the ranks and, a year later, Ahmad was instructed by a senior member to recruit other youths to form a gang in which he would be the headman.
Ahmad later managed to attract about 20 young people.”
Is there any comparison between what Amos did and these criminals? How could the DPP and the judge think that a RTC was a suitable place for a relatively sheltered middle-class boy like Amos? To sentence him to an RTC is callous and sadistic. It may be equivalent to handing Amos a death sentence. Whatever happens he is likely to end up scarred for life.
Furthermore is it not blatant racism or Singapore’s Government kowtowing to its former colonial master that a Briton was allowed to escape reformative training despite his multiple serious offences while a local boy who has only done what teenagers do routinely in the West is subjected to this brutal regime.
Also Amos’s education is likely to be set back considerably. He is clearly highly intelligent yet the RTC only offers basic vocational courses in electronics at NITEC intermediate level and foundation studies for Polytechnic at the Tanah Merah Prison (Prison School).
Sending Amos to reformative training echoes the way political prisoners in the old Soviet Union were sent into the gulag system with the worst criminals, and ended up at bottom of the prison hierarchy. This is what is going to happen to Amos and clearly that is the intention of the AG, who represents the PAP Government, and the judge.
Sentence of Reformative Training a form of Pre-emptive Detention without Trial
Amos is being punished for offences he has not yet committed and for which he has not been tried, as was made clear by Amos’s lawyer, Alfred Dodwell, in his submission to Justice Kaur, at the sentencing hearing.
The AG admitted as much when he said a jail term or a fine would have no rehabilitative effect on Amos and would therefore not be “tenable, because we cannot be popping back into court every other day.”
Surely it is a fundamental tenet of any justice system that you cannot be punished for crimes you have not yet committed, except perhaps in Philip K. Dick novels about dystopian futures like Minority Report. Yet that is what the AG is in effect saying and the judge is doing. This is just a thinly disguised detention without trial that to a sixteen year old must seem like forever with no light at the end of the tunnel. I can remember when I did NS how it seemed to last forever. All the Government want to do is to ensure Amos is denied his constitutional rights to freedom of expression, a fundamental tenet of any democracy.
Amos’s Situation is Worse than Nelson Mandela’s
I compared Amos’s wrongful conviction and disgraceful sentence to the example of Nelson Mandela who was also convicted in a court of law though for rather more serious crimes. This was in response to comments on the internet that I was wrong to call Amos a political prisoner since he had been convicted in a court of law. Besides Mandela, Ghandi and Anwar Ibrahim were also convicted in courts of law but no one would deny that Ghandi’s convictions were political and few outside the Malaysian Government would deny that Anwar’s conviction was.
However there is an important difference between Mandela and Amos Yee. Mandela had the support of other prisoners and the knowledge that his struggle for freedom was growing in strength both within South Africa and internationally where apartheid and Mandela’s imprisonment were turning South Africa’s white racist regime into an international pariah. Amos is alone and only a sixteen year old kid not an experienced lawyer with a huge network of supporters behind him.
Singaporeans Need to Stop Relying on a Slight Sixteen Year Old Boy to Wage the Battle for Freedom on Their Behalf
Finally I find it disgusting that when I attended the hearing many in the queue were laughing and joking that Amos would end up breaking the system and the PAP Government.
As I have said many times before Singaporeans need to wake up and stop relying on others to wage the war for basic freedoms on their behalf. During my dad’s time, they expected him to struggle alone for them. He lost everything but very few came forward to help him. I remember Chiam See Tong saying to me, “Singaporeans will applaud from the sidelines if you speak up for them. But they won’t step forward to help you when the Government sues you.”
Now the same thing is happening with Amos. Adult Singaporeans need to step forward and take responsibility for fighting for their freedoms rather than rely on an immature sixteen year old kid.
Certainly they cannot expect any help from Westerners who are engaged in the cynical bargain of heaping praise on the PAP in return for being allowed to work or do business here and pay low tax. They will accumulate their pile and go back to their home countries where they can enjoy the freedoms and the luxury lifestyle they are happy to see denied to Singaporeans.
When Lee Kuan Yew is elevated to a god and his son is similarly deified when he retires and it is made a criminal offence to criticise anyone from the PAP perhaps we will not regret not showing Amos more support.
Perhaps now the Workers Party may be regretting having abandoned JBJ and left him to his fate when they see that even keeping their heads down is not saving them from a vicious PAP onslaught and smear campaign that looks likely to end in legal action to disqualify them from Parliament, just like the trumped-charges brought against JBJ in 1986.
It is worth bearing in mind the much quoted words from Martin Niemoller every time we see the comment that Amos was just a foul-mouthed brat who had it coming:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Once you let your freedom be taken away you never get it back.