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Singaporean Teenager Arrested for Making Videos Deemed ‘Offensive’

Photo from Facebook page of Amos Yee

Photo from Facebook page of Amos Yee

There was nationwide grief and mourning when Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew died last month. His passing united the people who paid tribute to a leader who led the city’s transformation from a poor island in the 1960s into a prosperous society today.

But there were also those who chose to highlight Lee Kuan Yew’s policies which they believe caused a lot of suffering, such as the excessive regulation of the media and persecution of the political opposition.

One of the critics was Amos Yee, who posted an eight-minute video entitled “Lee Kuan Yew Is Finally Dead!” The police received 20 complaints related to the video, which became the basis for arresting Amos Yee. Harassment charges were filed, despite the fact that Amos Yee is only 16 years old.

Amos Yee is a teenager video blogger who has been actively and aggressively sharing his views on several issues such as homosexuality, Christianity, economy, movies, and Singapore politics. He is praised for bravely articulating his opinions, but he is also criticized for using rude language and vulgar images in his videos.

His video commentary on Lee Kuan Yew angered many who felt it was inappropriate, insensitive, and disrespectful. Because of this, he was charged with harassment for causing ‘distress’ to those who viewed the video. Further, he was also slapped with two more charges: offending the religious sentiments of Christians, and circulating an obscene material. If found guilty in these three cases, he can be detained for three years.

There are few in Singapore who openly support the views expressed by Amos Yee. But many are concerned over the decision to arrest a teenager for expressing an unpopular opinion. For journalist Kirsten Han, his case reflects the state of free speech in Singapore:

You can be reported and arrested for being offensive and annoying and rude and vulgar and disrespectful. That it can be a criminal offence to say things that people don’t like to hear.

Apart from the problems of using handcuffs on minors, is this really a proportional response to a YouTube video? Can we really, hand on heart, look at this treatment of a teenager and say that this is a rational, mature reaction?

But for student Yuen Wei Ping, one of those who complained against Amos Yee, the filing of a case can help prevent the young video blogger from committing bigger crimes in the future:

From what I can see of him, he is closed to the opinions of others. I hope to stop Amos from making any worse mistakes in the future, because even though he is arrested for these charges now, he may be arrested for worse things in the future.

Another complainant, lawyer Chia Boon Teck, asserted that “disrespectful comments” should be reported to authorities:

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.

Playwright and poet Alfian Sa'at described this argument as dangerous to free expression. “Instead of engaging with the substance of someone else’s arguments, what you do instead is tone-policing.”

Amos Yee and Roy, Singapore bloggers who are facing legal cases  today for expressing their views. Photo from Facebook page of Roy

Amos Yee and Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, Singapore bloggers who are facing legal cases today for expressing their views. Photo from Facebook page of Roy

Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, a blogger who was sued by the prime minister for alleging that there were some anomalies in the government housing program, declared his sympathy for Amos Yee:

Even if we disagree with Amos, should we ask for him to be jailed? Should we asked for him to have his future destroyed, just because we disagree with something he said? I am speaking up because how we think about Amos and how we engage him says more about our society than about him.

There is an online petition which emphasizes that Amos Yee’s statements do not undermine the Christian faith. “His opinions about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ neither threaten our faith nor diminish our love for Him.”

Another online petition initiated by Community Action Network urged for a more mature discussion with regard to his case:

Yee’s opinions about the late Lee Kuan Yew—no matter how offensive to admirers of the former Prime Minister—should be viewed as opinions of an individual. A mature society is one in which people engage each other in rational discourse, not one which resorts to punitive action to silence those with opinions deemed disagreeable.

Writing for The Online Citizen, Howard Lee weighs both sides in favor and against the cause of Amos Yee and makes this appeal:

What we should have gone after is not the person voicing out, but the content of what has been voiced out. We can grudgingly accept that it contains nuggets of truth, as much as we can accept that it was offensive and made in bad faith.

After spending four nights in jail, Amos Yee was freed today, April 21, 2015, on bail. His pre-trial conference is scheduled on April 30, 2015.

  • Alwyn Chan

    Wad can I say man… I have tried saying the truth.. no one bothers with it… I guess it dun matter if I told a lie…. BUT I won’t cos I have never done do and won’t start.

    The Truth is this.. I have met Amos Yee.. and my gawd people, he is one obnoxious, self-absorbed teenager with only one concern in his mind… how he can get MORE FAME and attention. At least that was how he came across to me. However, I am the sort who gives any idiot a chance to prove himself. So here’s what happened. At that time we both knew a young fella who was in trouble and my gawd people, no matter what happens, I would NEVER tell a young fellow to leave school… no matter his problems.. this is his future.. in a country where education is everything…. However, Amos in a smart-alecky manner tried to persuade this young fellow to leave school.. dropout…

    I was terribly annoyed, naturally, as I have been an educator in my rather long an eventful life. I said to him at that time, “This is NOT about you Amos….” he was furious with my assertion.. but it was true.. Amos had no regard for this young person’s future….

    Anyway I removed Amos Yee from my Fb because i found his character and personality offensive. He had no regard for anyone or anything in fact. It therefore surprises me none that he posted the vid that he did….. I mean it was OBVIOUS from my meeting with him that FAME was foremost in his mind…. it does not take a genius to see it.

    I am no great supporter of the PAP party that rules Singapore.. my constant assertion is that my country needs a “loyal opposition” as a sort of watchdog. Also I am no big fan of the late Mr LKY. I am, like many Singaporeans, terribly annoyed by the video because i am of a generation that believes one should not slander a dead man, esp not during his own funeral. I am all for accurate historical evaluation of the LKY legacy…. BUT…. this has to be done by better people than Amos Yee..

    I think it is to the credit of the Singaporean Christian people that they have at this time chosen to exercise their Christian principles…. thus bringing glory to their religion and their gawd. In fact, I THINK they are the biggest winners in this saga. Amos is merely the foil they have played against to show that they are the better men.

    I support freedom of speech as a principle BUT I am also aware of the realities of the political situation of the day and the truth is this… it was NOT members of the Singapore govt who called the cops on Amos, it was private citizens, annoyed by the video and perceiving slander towards Mr LKY and towards a major religion. As a Singaporean people, we are particularly sensitive towards issues of religion and the founding principle of our nation has always been, religious harmony and any act that insults any of the religions is counted as Sedition, under the Sedition Laws of my nation state.

    Now, some people might say that there is a conspiracy there in the arrest of Amos, BUT as a reasonable person, I will not believe in any such tale without PROOF…. it is clear that his video has roused a great deal of public anger, genuine anger from ordinary people. Of course they expressed their anger and disapproval in the most common way Singaporeans do, which is to call the cops.

    At this juncture in my tale, I must point out that in no way was free speech being choked by the government machinery.. Amos is free to say his peace and the people of Singapore are free to spew forth the vitrol of their anger. Sadly some very foolish people made threats… of course Amos is free to sue them or call the cops, but hey here’s REALITY… Amos did not…. his father also did not do it for him, why? I believe the man is in no position at present to support his son financially, esp hiring lawyers to sue the people who threatened Amos.. and that would be A LOT of Singaporeans.

    My own opinion is and has always been this…. I see no reason to punish this CHILD. Because he IS A CHILD…. Can he be made to change and apologise to my countrymen for the anger he has kindled in them? NO I believe he is quite stubborn. Also my countrymen are quite famous for their complaining and vitrol….. in them, there is no match anywhere on this damn planet. If he were to face them in public debate, he would surely find it SUPREMELY TOUGH GOING. An angry Singaporean is not something that is easily faced down.

    Personally I have REPEATEDLY posted my viewpoint, which is that this is a matter which we as a country SHOULD IGNORE…. IGNORE this child…. let the critics and academics debate. BUT Why should we as a people take the words of a nobody to any account?

    Well.. I guess folks reading this will also take my words to no account…. I am confessedly a nobody.. just an old Singaporean saying his viewpoint. Well, I decided to type this out because I am unable to sleep and because I am tired, of this whole drama. It is needless drama… we could have avoided it all… BUT I THINK given my damn luck, no one is going to see this post.

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