Yee pleads not guilty, declines to take stand

Yee pleads not guilty, declines to take stand
Amos Yee’s father Alphonsus Yee (front) and mother (in black, centre) leaving the State Courts, with others who turned up to show their support for the teen yesterday. The case resumes this afternoon.

In a packed courtroom yesterday, 16-year-old Amos Yee pleaded not guilty to charges of posting an obscene image and insulting Christianity.

This was after admitting in court documents that the image and profanity-laced video he uploaded two months ago were "offensive, and promoted ill-will and hostility among Singaporeans".

"I am not remorseful for my actions," read his statement to police, which was part of the documents, adding that any offence caused was "an aspect of freedom of speech".

He also said he had no intention of taking down any of his videos or the alleged obscene image involving the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and former British premier Margaret Thatcher.

The teenager, who has been remanded in Changi Prison since last Thursday, was yesterday brought to court clad in a white prison T-shirt and brown shorts, and in handcuffs and leg shackles.

As he was led in, he smiled to his parents. He continued to smile as he entered his pleas. When asked by District Judge Jasbendar Kaur if he would take the stand, Yee declined.

While an accused's refusal to speak in his defence would normally see the court draw an adverse inference, the judge said she would not do so in this case.

The trial, which lasted 20 minutes, was adjourned till 2.30pm today, after defence lawyer Alfred Dodwell asked for more time to study the prosecution's evidence.

Speaking to reporters later, he said there was no need for Yee to testify as he "has already explained himself to the police". He added that his client was "in the highest spirits" and "feels very confident" about the case.

"He believes he's done nothing wrong... and this is the very reason why he is in remand, because he refuses to be gagged," said Mr Dodwell, who took on the case on a pro bono basis.

On Wednesday, Yee challenged his bail conditions which ban him from posting online, but was rejected.

Yee was charged on March 31, four days after uploading a video criticising Mr Lee, Singapore's founding prime minister, who died just over a week before. A day after Yee put up the video, he uploaded the image.

In the court documents, he revealed how he was raised a Catholic but he asked to leave the Church in 2013 when he converted to atheism.

He called himself a "fan" of the YouTube channel, The Amazing Atheist, which convinced him that vulgar language was "effective" in putting his points forward.

He said that in March, he attended a Singapore Democratic Party dinner which left him with "a better understanding of local politics".

That, the work of blogger Roy Ngerng and his own experience of the education system - he stopped school after his O levels - helped him conceptualise the video.

He said he realised that its contents were seditious, but was unsure whether they would land him in jail.

His mother had advised against putting up the video but he decided to go ahead.

He added that he is currently writing the script for a new video on Mr Lee as a response to hate mail.

Yee's father, Mr Alphonsus Yee, was seen dabbing his eyes as he left the courtroom but denied crying.

He said: "We are in good hands (with the lawyers). Of course it's emotional seeing him in the dock, he's my son."

amirh@sph.com.sg

oliviaho@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 08, 2015.
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