Sentence backdated, Amos Yee released

Amos Yee walking away from the State Courts yesterday evening with his mother, Madam Mary Toh. He had spent some 50 days in remand.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Teen blogger Amos Yee was yesterday sentenced to four weeks' jail and, with his sentence backdated, the 16-year-old was able to walk free from the State Courts after having spent some 50 days in remand.

The sentence meted out marked the end of a saga that began in late March, when Yee made offensive remarks against Christianity in an expletive-laden video and uploaded an obscene image on his blog.

He was convicted on both charges by District Judge Jasvender Kaur on May 12, after a two-day trial.

But his sentence was delayed after he refused to be assessed for probation. He also made his offending posts public again, prompting the prosecution to ask that he be assessed for reformative training.

Later, he was remanded at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) after a psychiatric assessment suggested that he had autism spectrum disorder.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Hay Hung Chun called for a lighter one-day jail term, citing "a seismic change of attitude", with Yee now remorseful and agreeable to undergo counselling with a psychiatrist. Yee had voluntarily removed the offending posts on June 23 and promised not to re-offend.

In passing sentence, Judge Kaur briefly addressed Yee directly.

"I do hope that you would rethink long and hard your decision not to continue with your formal education," she said. "There are a few dropout success stories, but they are the very lucky few."

In her oral grounds of decision, the judge said that "while the particular offences are not the most serious offences, they are not trivial".

But she took into account Yee's "young age, his lack of maturity of thought and that this is his first conviction before the courts".

She also said it was "significant" that in his interview with IMH psychiatrist Cai Yi Ming, Yee "promised not to re-offend as he realised what he did was against the law and could disrupt social harmony".

Dr Cai's report stated that Yee does not suffer from any mental disorder, but would benefit from having a counsellor or mentor guide him in using the Internet.

He also recommended that Yee continue with formal education so that he has the opportunity to socialise with his peers, and further suggested that his family undergo family counselling to improve their relationship.

Yee seemed downcast and dazed as he left the court at about 5.15pm yesterday. Outside the court, his father, computer engineer Alphonsus Yee, told reporters in Mandarin: "I respect the judge's sentence."

Yee's lawyer, Mr Alfred Dodwell, said he would be appealing against both conviction and sentence, based on his client's instructions.

Singapore diplomat responds to article in The Economist

Singapore's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, responding to an article in The Economist magazine criticising freedom of speech here, said integrity and honest reporting are as important as the right to speak freely.

Ms Foo Chi Hsia, in a letter published on its website on July 4, said the article was unbalanced and failed to give the context of the cases it cited.

Her reply was to a June 24 article titled "Zip it", which cited three cases as evidence that "any hope that Singapore's ruling People's Action Party would loosen controls over the media... seems misplaced". These were the trial of teenage blogger Amos Yee, the shutdown of The Real Singapore (TRS) site in May, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's defamation suit against blogger Roy Ngerng.

Addressing each case in turn, Ms Foo said Yee was convicted of insulting the faith of Christians: "In a small, highly diverse society like Singapore, we guard our social peace jealously and make no apologies for it. We cannot allow people to denigrate or offend the religious beliefs of others: The result is anger and violence, as we have seen elsewhere," she said, adding that protection from hate speech is a basic human right.

As for TRS, it was suspended as it published articles deliberately stirring up anti-foreigner sentiments. It fabricated stories to boost traffic and advertising revenue, she said.

The suit against Mr Ngerng was "a completely separate matter", she said, noting that the High Court found he defamed Mr Lee. "Freedom of speech does not extend to freedom to defame others," said Ms Foo.

The Government has also not shied away from debating questions about the Central Provident Fund despite Mr Ngerng's "questionable tactics", she said, noting, for example, that he had engaged Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on the issue at a public forum last July.


This article was first published on July 7, 2015.
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