A Legacy of Hyperlegalism?

Amos Yee was arrested. Amos Yee will be charged. Amos Yee may be convicted.

The police were doing their job in arresting Amos Yee. The police will not be wrong to charge him. The courts will not be wrong in their judgment, and must never be said to be wrong.

From the arrest to the charges to any eventual conviction, there will be no wrongdoing you can accuse anyone of. There is no sarcasm here thus far for the police and the judges administer justice as they ought to — there will no room for personal biases even if they might personally, for some reason, empathize with Yee. This is the Lee Kuan Yew legacy that many are proud of.

Those who made the police report had the right to do so too. They were reporting behaviors that can be prosecuted. Yet I can’t help but wonder how Lee Kuan Yew, if he now exists in some sentient afterlife form, would react to those who made the police report against the sixteen-year-old boy. There is no need to emphasize how young Yee is for many before me have already pointed it out to the extent of making it meaningless. If I were honest with myself, his age does not matter much to me. He is old enough to think and exercise discretion. But even if Yee were twice or thrice his age, should it make a difference? Regardless of his youth, he is someone expressing his disdain for a politician the Singapore society the latter played a big part in shaping. One might say that he is irreverent, disrespectful, vulgar. One might even gasp and say that he is offensive. (But may I just mildly and politely ask, with no intention to offend or aggravate any fragile Singaporean soul — look how cautious I am trying to be! — if no one is allowed to offend anyone in Singapore?) Ironically, the trouble Yee is now in might in the eyes of some onlookers justify his unhappiness of Singapore. The Lee Kuan Yew of my imagination will not even condescend to deal with an insignificant small fry. Unfortunately, perhaps Amos Yee did not upset Goliazilla himself but had incurred the wrath of his overly concerned henchmen?

Did those responsible for the police report against Yee feel offended or genuinely worried that his brief allusions to Jesus (which, from what I understand, were made as rhetoric to bolster his messages about Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore society) would really hit sensitive religious nerves badly enough to damage social cohesion in Singapore or threaten national security? Did they see his behaviour as being comparable to those who call for the persecution of people belonging to a particular race or religion? Did they think that the video might incite people into turning violent on Lee Kuan Yew supporters or Christians? Would those who made the report against the boy, who is now going to be charged with circulating obscene material too, routinely report every single blog they come across that features content definable as obscene and that is maintained by someone in Singapore? I can only ask. Or perhaps I dare only ask. I must only ask for I cannot presume to read minds or hearts. (Or perhaps I are only ask because I have seen the darkness of hearts before.)

I can only ask if it is at all possible that there might be one, maybe just one, amongst those who reported Yee to the police that might actually be motivated by his anger with scornful criticism of Lee Kuan Yew that is within the limits of free speech even by local standards, but sees the chance to get even with Yee in the more legally questionable parts of the speech.

It is reported that the boy will also be charged with “making threatening, abusive or insulting communication that is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.” I do believe some people will claim to be distressed by whatever he said, and I have no doubt that people may really be offended. And it would be really, really funny, wouldn’t it, if a person making an anti-LKY tirade were only charged with offending religious sensitivities and circulating obscene content? This is the charge I would personally least question though it also involves the law I find most disturbing. Insulting communication that will likely cause distress?

(Would any lawyer reading this like to advise me whether to make a police report about that bugger on Facebook who definitely distressed me by calling me “Auntie,” a term which I find very alarming and insulting? Thanks, especially if you can file a police report on my behalf.)

Again, my untamed mind cannot help but ask questions (not again?) despite faith in the competence of the police and the judiciary. Are there flaws in our laws and is there a problem with Singapore society?

I wonder if we have become a society of too many laws that cast their nets too widely. More despondently, I wonder if we have become a society that has no qualms about invoking controversial laws and, in so doing, perpetuate them and justify them in the collective consciousness.

I am not even thinking about those who reported Yee to the police. I could be talking about you, you and you too — you, who might have nodded as you read whatever I have written above, but who also might have called for people like Edz Ello to be arrested by the ISD or to be charged with sedition even though you could have signed petitions to abolish the ISA or to get rid of the law on sedition altogether. (Oh dear! Did I offend you?) Even if there is not one person amongst those who reported Yee to the police out of vindictiveness (the existence of which no one can conclusively prove or disprove), I am afraid I have heard all too many calls for the use of the law against individuals they happen to loathe or disagree vehemently with. Perhaps it is a mentality trickled down from the top and distributed very evenly (unlike some other things that are supposed to trickle down). Many Singaporeans, for instance, are familiar with cases of defamation suits in which opposition politicians were sued to bankruptcy, but the plaintiffs were exercising their legal rights, and the opposition politicians were technically being defamatory, and the judges were not at all being biased. It is also common for people to perceive these lawsuits as effective ways of curbing oppositional voices rather than necessary for the protection of politicians’ reputations. (Of course, can I really blame the masses if the very people who might have called for a more gracious society set an example by crushing their opponents with the law?)

People do learn fast and learn well. People have learned that racial and religious issues are defined in the dominant discourse as sensitive issues, and they have learned that it is possible to get others into trouble for being insensitive when it comes to “sensitive” issues. People have learned that certain behaviors that would easily be dismissed as banality in many other countries could be spun into something as apparently serious as sedition.

Why try to persuade and negotiate when one could pressure or even coerce and yield better results?

(But when people cannot persuade or negotiate, their immaturity will always be the perfect excuse for the lack of progressiveness.)

When the citizens and the state invoke the same bogeyman, it becomes exceedingly difficult to reject its existence because it has been collectively imagined into being. One can do little but lament the stench of vindictive opportunism when a legalistic society increasingly embraces the wanton jettisoning of ethical principles. This is perhaps the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew when it is left to develop into a monstrosity he himself might not have intended or foreseen.

Will those who reported Yee to the police be appeased or ashamed if they are told that they have managed to scar a person’s life, potentially destroying his future prospects? Will they feel a sense of achievement if they see their fellow Singaporeans, upon witnessing Yee’s predicament, become too intimidated to speak up when their views are not pro-establishment? Again, I can only ask — until asking becomes distressing and alarming too.

Amos Yee is not the first casualty, and he will not … Complete the sentence yourself if you have read till this point. It is too predictable and painful to finish it myself.

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4 Responses

  1. Thank you for a well written piece. I can only wish there are more open minded people like you in Singapore. Being a parent, I totally understand why we must give space to our children to grow, and limiting their freedom is the worst thing any parent can do. I am sadden for the children of Singapore.

  2. […] Amos Yee was arrested. Amos Yee will be charged. Amos Yee may be convicted. The police were doing their job in arresting Amos Yee. The police will not be wrong to charge him. The courts will not be… Many Singaporeans, for instance, are familiar with cases of defamation suits in which opposition politicians were sued to bankruptcy, but the plaintiffs were exercising their legal rights, and the opposition politicians were technically being defamatory, and the judges were not at all being biased. It is also common for people to perceive these lawsuits as effective ways of curbing oppositional voices rather than necessary for the protection of politicians’ reputations. (Of course, can I really blame the masses if the very people who might have called for a more gracious society set an example by crushing their opponents with the law?) People do learn fast and learn well. People have learned that racial and religious issues are defined in the dominant discourse as sensitive issues, and they have learned that it is possible to get others into trouble for being insensitive when it comes to “sensitive” issues. People have learned that certain behaviors that would easily be dismissed as banality in many other countries could be spun into something as apparently serious as sedition. Why try to persuade and negotiate when one could pressure or even coerce and yield better results? One can do little but lament the stench of vindictive opportunism when a legalistic society increasingly embraces the wanton jettisoning of ethical principles. This is perhaps the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew when it is left to develop into a monstrosity he himself might not have intended or foreseen. Will those who reported Yee to the police be appeased or ashamed if they are told that they have managed to scar a person’s life, potentially destroying his future prospects? Will they feel a sense of achievement if they see their fellow Singaporeans, upon witnessing Yee’s predicament, become too intimidated to speak up when their views are not pro-establishment? Again, I can only ask — until asking becomes distressing and alarming too. Amos Yee is not the first casualty, and he will not … Complete the sentence yourself if you have read till this point. It is too predictable and painful to finish it myself.  […]

  3. You are the only one person I could find who agrees with me that Amos Yee should not have been charged. The current situation is bordering on the ridiculous – anyone making negative remarks and complaints about anyone else is charged?!
    You should see some of the legalese on offensive comments against religion. I was shocked – any little comment that can be taken to be against any religion (and offends someone) and the speaker can be charged!

  4. I hope it is not in the government’s hidden agenda to keep the people immature, uneducated and ignorant, just to perpetuate it’s hold on legitimacy and power.

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