Amos Yee back in prison for 3 weeks; to be assessed for reformative training

Amos Yee arriving at the State Courts on June 2, 2015. Yee is back in prison for three weeks, after the judge who heard his case on Tuesday morning called for a reformative training report. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW
Amos Yee arriving at the State Courts on June 2, 2015. Yee is back in prison for three weeks, after the judge who heard his case on Tuesday morning called for a reformative training report. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - Teenage blogger Amos Yee is back in prison for three weeks, after the judge who heard his case on Tuesday morning called for a reformative training report.

The 16-year-old had been found guilty on May 12 of uploading an obscene image and making remarks intending to hurt the feelings of Christians in a video.

District Judge Jasvender Kaur called for a report to assess if Yee is physically and mentally suitable for reformative training. She said: "Rehabilitation is the fundamental tenet of our justice system."

She had initially asked for a probation suitability report after Yee's conviction on May 12. This would have left the teenager without a criminal record.

Clad in a yellow T-shirt, a tan cardigan and track pants, Yee arrived at 9.30am with his parents and showed his middle finger to the media as he passed them.

When asked by The Straits Times before the start of the session how he was feeling, Yee said he was "fearful" but did not elaborate.

During Tuesday's hearing, the prosecution again called for Yee to be sent for reformative training, as he has not cooperated with his assigned probation officer. They also highlighted how Yee has once more made public the image and video that got him into trouble in the first place.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Hay Hung Chun said: "His conduct, and the latest developments, amplify the need for rehabilitation and appropriate counselling."

He pointed out a jail term or a fine would have no rehabilitative effect on Yee and would therefore not be "tenable, because we cannot be popping back into court every other day."

Reformative training is a rehabilitative sentencing option for young offenders aged under 21 who are found to be unsuitable for probation.

A stint at the Reformative Training Centre lasts between 18 and 30 months, and includes structured rehabilitation programmes, foot drills, and counselling. Offenders will not have contact with adult prison inmates.

The defence argued, however, that reformative training was a disproportionate punishment to Yee's offence, and pushed instead for a short jail term.

Yee's lawyer Alfred Dodwell said his client was "quite ready to go in" to remand. "We have advised him as to the law and the consequences of not obeying the law, but it is the absolute right of the client to do as he pleases. If he doesn't take (the video and the post) down I can't force him to. He feels very strongly about this."

The obscene image had the faces of Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and former British premier Margaret Thatcher superimposed on it.  Yee was also found guilty of deliberately hurting the feelings of Christians in the YouTube video, which criticised Mr Lee.

Yee had initially made private both the video and the blog post with the image after  Judge Kaur ordered him to do so on May 12, but the prosecution noticed on May 21 that they had been made public again.

On Monday, June 1, Yee uploaded the image onto his Facebook page as well.  He also made a series of defiant posts refusing to remove the offending material.

"...to the chagrin of numerous people, I have not 'learnt my lesson', nor do I see any 'lesson' that needs to be learnt," he wrote.

The crowd at Tuesday's hearing was thinner than in previous sessions. Although about 13 people were queuing outside Court 7 at 8.30am, only about 20 seats were filled in a gallery that had been packed to the brim in earlier hearings.

Among those present was activist blogger Roy Ngerng and Reform Party secretary-general Kenneth Jeyaretnam. Yee's former bailor Vincent Law, whom Yee had falsely accused of molesting him, was absent.

Yee's father Alphonsus Yee said that his son was "mentally prepared" to enter remand. He and Yee's mother Madam Mary Toh declined to speak further to reporters.

Yee's case will next be heard on June 23.

oliviaho@sph.com.sg