High Court dismisses Amos Yee's appeal

Amos Yee did not turn up yesterday at his appeal against his conviction and jail term as he has served his sentence, said his lawyer.
Amos Yee did not turn up yesterday at his appeal against his conviction and jail term as he has served his sentence, said his lawyer.ST FILE PHOTO

Judge takes teen blogger to task for showing 'attitude of complete disregard for others'

Blogger Amos Yee was admonished by a High Court judge yesterday for having no regard for anyone else and using crude language to seek attention.

But the teenager was not there to hear it, deciding to stay away from his own appeal against his conviction and four-week jail term for wounding the feelings of Christians in a video as well as uploading an obscene image onto his blog.

Lawyer Alfred Dodwell, who is representing Amos pro bono with two others, said he chose not to turn up as he has served his sentence.

NOT FREEDOM OF SPEECH

This does not sound like freedom of speech at all. It is a licence to hate, to humiliate others and to totally disregard their feelings or beliefs by using words to inflict unseen wounds.

JUSTICE TAY YONG KWANG, on Amos Yee's behaviour

After two hours of arguments, Justice Tay Yong Kwang dismissed the appeal and took the teen to task for his behaviour throughout the criminal proceedings. He said the 16-year-old has "displayed an attitude of complete disregard for others that is hardly ever seen".

"He openly defied directions of the court and made sure people on the Internet knew about his bravado in giving no respect to absolutely anyone, whether it is the police, the court, someone who had just passed away and the people mourning him or an entire body of believers of a religion."

The judge said it would be wrong to keep focusing on his age and downplay all that he has done.

In an expletive-laden video uploaded on March 27 - four days after the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew - the teen made an analogy between Singapore's founding Prime Minister and Jesus Christ, describing both as "power hungry and malicious". He also drew parallels between Mr Lee's "delusional and ignorant" followers and Christians.

A day later, he posted an image on his blog, in which the faces of Mr Lee and former British premier Margaret Thatcher were superimposed on a line drawing of two people engaging in a sex act.

After he was charged, Amos refused to comply with bail conditions which disallowed him from posting online and required him to make private the offensive material. As a result, his parents and, later, a counsellor, withdrew bail, accounting for 18 of the 53 days in total that he spent in remand.

After he was convicted, he was remanded for 21 days after rejecting probation and reposting the material. He refused to undergo psychiatric assessment and was remanded for another 14 days.

He eventually walked free in July after a district judge sentenced him to four weeks' jail and backdated it.

Yesterday, Justice Tay agreed with Deputy Public Prosecutor Kwek Mean Luck that the time in remand was entirely of the teen's own doing. He noted Amos' actions were done in the "noble disguise" of freedom of speech and a purported desire to generate genuine debate.

But his deliberate use of vulgarities, crude language and obscene depictions to provoke reaction was akin to someone throwing stones at a neighbour's window to force the neighbour to notice him, come out to quarrel or even to fight, he said.

"This does not sound like freedom of speech at all," said Justice Tay, saying that it was a licence to hate and humiliate others.

Mr Dodwell stressed that Amos was just a 16-year-old who adopts logic and reasoning in expressing his views. He argued that the case has far-reaching implications on the curtailment of free speech.

Another lawyer, Mr Ervin Tan, argued that the image was not obscene as it did not depict any genitalia. But Justice Tay said a picture does not become obscene only when it is explicit. Would a young man visiting his girlfriend's parents share the image with his prospective in-laws, the judge asked.

The third lawyer, Mr Chong Jiahao, argued that Amos did not intend to wound religious feelings as the purpose of the video was to talk about Mr Lee. Singaporeans felt offended because of the sentiments about Mr Lee but there was no evidence that Christians felt insulted.

However, Justice Tay said: "Three carefully crafted sentences about a subject can deliver as much venom as 30 pages of text about another subject, especially when the subjects are then linked by analogy."

But he noted Amos was "not without talent" and has a command of the English language which could be put to good use. "I hope that Mr Yee will wean himself away from his preference for crude and rude language," said the judge, adding that real debate on social issues need not be poisoned with vulgarities.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2015, with the headline 'High Court dismisses Amos Yee's appeal'. Print Edition | Subscribe