Three months ago, Community Action Network wrote a letter to local newspaper Today, in response to the charges against Amos Yee.
Even before the Administration of Justice Bill was passed in parliament, we received this message on July 26, that our letter would not be published in their Voices section as it would constitute a contempt of court offence. The first reading for the Administration of Justice Bill was on July 12.
Thanks for your contribution to Voices.
However, after Amos Yee had been charged on May 26, the case was sub judice, i.e. under judicial consideration, which precluded the publication of your letter because the view of the Attorney-General’s Chambers is that commenting on a case before the courts is a no-no.
Nonetheless, I appreciate that you responded to a report in TODAY by writing to Voices.
This was the letter we submitted:
I refer to the recent charges against Amos Yee (Amos Yee to face new charges related to religion) and would like to express our disappointment at what the state has done .
Those charges not only violate Yee’s right to free speech, but also the rights of Singaporeans to express themselves freely. These are rights enshrined in Article 14 of Singapore’s Constitution and affirmed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In his video, Yee makes comments that some deem offensive to the Muslim and Christian communities. Yee’s Youtube rant was rude and in poor taste. However, Yee’s opinions—no matter how offensive to certain members of the Muslim and Christian faiths—should be viewed as opinions of an individual. It should not be a crime to have an opinion, even if it is an unpalatable opinion about a religion or religious figure. Yee did not preach hatred or incite violence with his words. Those who disagree can either engage with or ignore him.
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 legal avenues when disagreements arise. 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 should not have to turn to the police every time our feelings are hurt.
The Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC) which Singapore has ratified advocates alternative measures to child and youth offenders, 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.
Therefore, the eight charges against Yee are disproportionate and heavy-handed and violate the fundamental principles of our constitution and the Convention for the Rights of the Child. 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.