We would like to express our deep disappointment over the recent arrest of Amos Yee.
Singapore is an advanced and prosperous nation. We boast a highly-educated, literate and resilient population. We should allow space for people to express diverse opinions, and, if offended, engage in robust and civilized debate, without turning to the police or other legal avenues when disagreements arise.
And yet, for uploading a YouTube video deemed offensive by some, 16-year-old Amos Yee has been charged with harassment, and with deliberately wounding religious feelings. For posting a rude drawing featuring two politicians, Yee is accused of distributing obscene material.
In his video, Yee makes comments that some deem offensive to the Christian community.
However, we would like to bring your attention to a petition, started by a Singaporean Christian. It says: “As ugly as Amos Yee’s words were, we forgive because Jesus loved us despite our own fallen spiritual state.”
The petition has 3000 signatures so far and can be found here:https://www.change.org/p/the-government-of-singapore-release-amos-yee
In addition, Singapore is a signatory to the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC), in which children—those under the age of eighteen—require particular safeguards and protections. Article 3 of the convention emphasizes that “[i]n all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”.
In instances when a child has been accused of infringing the law, Article 40 states that the child has to “be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth”. There is a need to take into account “the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society”. We note that when Amos was arrested, he was handcuffed in front of his parents and grandparents, and was detained by the police for two days. The mainstream media also wrongly reported that his mother had made a police report against him when no such thing happened.
The convention further advocates alternative measures for dealing with such children, without resorting to judicial proceedings. These measures include “[a] variety of dispositions, such as care, guidance and supervision orders; counselling; probation; foster care; education and vocational training programmes and other alternatives to institutional care”; they should also be undertaken “in a manner appropriate to their well-being and proportionate both to their circumstances and the offence”.
Singapore’s prosecution of Amos Yee goes against the spirit of the Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC).
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.
We call on the government to drop the charges against Amos Yee. Measures taken against Yee are disproportionate and heavy-handed and violate the fundamental principles enshrined in the UN convention Singapore has signed. They do nothing to help Singapore evolve as a country. Instead of fostering tolerance, they encourage the policing of thought and speech. If we truly aspire to live up to the democratic ideals of our pledge, we need to find more progressive, compassionate ways of dealing with differences in opinion.