By Andrew Loh
Neo Gim Huah has been sentenced to three weeks’ jail for voluntarily causing hurt to teenager, 16-year old Amos Yee, on 30 April.
Neo, 49, had struck Yee in the face outside the State Court while the latter was on his way to a pre-trial conference.
A posse of media reporters and cameramen were present when the incident happened, and several videos of it later made its way online.
Neo told the court on Monday that he wanted to teach the teen “a lesson” for disrespecting Singapore’s former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.
Yee had made and posted an eight-minute video ridiculing and castigating Mr Lee, and compared him to the Christian religious icon, Jesus Christ, in an unflattering manner, saying both men were “power-hungry and malicious”.
Yee is facing charges for the video and for a caricature of Mr Lee and the late British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.
“The accused sought to maximise the publicity that would be generated by his intended course of action by deliberately choosing the time and place – while the victim was on his way to the State Courts to attend a pre-trial conference,” District Judge Ronald Gwee said in his judgement.
Judge Gwee said “a strong message must be sent to the public at large and particularly to like-minded persons as the accused that his brand of vigilante justice must never be allowed to take root.”
Since the incident almost two weeks ago, members of the public have largely condemned Neo’s actions.
Indeed, Law Minister K Shanmugam described Neo’s deed as “quite unacceptable”.
Others have called for Neo to be taught a good lesson himself.
There are still others who are now, after yesterday’s judgement, calling for Neo’s background to be unearthed, and to further punish him by hounding his business into closure.
We must refrain from doing such things, and take the higher ground and forgive Neo, now that he has been sentenced and more importantly, he has also apologised to Yee and his family.
Some of us (and there are not a few) cried foul when Amos Yee himself was hauled up by the police in a most unnecessary manner – arresting him at his home, handcuffing him, requiring him to post bail, having his passport impounded, dressing him in prison clothes with the word “PRISONER” emblazoned on his back, shackling his feet, and basically parading him in front of the media – even though he has not been found guilty of any offence.
The way the state (and the media, which have sought to demonise the boy) has gone about this is disturbing indeed.
There are many questions about how Amos Yee is being treated by several quarters, including the silence from our elected members, none of whom has publicly raised concerns about whether throwing the book at a boy is the right thing to do.
Yet in the middle of all this – including repeated abuse online by pro-establishment, pro-Lee Kuan Yew supporters – Amos Yee has not sought to do as others have done to him.
Indeed, when Neo assaulted him outside the State Courts, Amos Yee merely put his palm to his cheeks and walked away.
He didn’t chase after Neo.
He didn’t shout back at Neo, who had reportedly challenge Amos Yee to “sue me”.
Amos Yee didn’t ask his parents to file a police report.
He went about his business in court that day, which subsequently saw him being remanded again, till this day.
Amos Yee sought no vengeance.
But this was not the first time that the teenager was dealt such violence or threats of such violence.
After his video was first published, a purported grassroots leader threatened to “cut off his dick and stuff into his mouth”, while others called for and encouraged the rape of Amos Yee while the boy was in remand.
Others have made vile and obscene references to his mother as well.
In short, Amos Yee has been thrown before the courts, misrepresented and smeared in the mainstream media, threatened and assaulted, abused and ridiculed by a pro-establishment lynch mob, a mob which now hails Neo as a “national hero”.
Yet, throughout all this utterly shameful behaviour directed at him, Amos Yee has not sought to react in the same childish manner.
Instead, he has even defended the right of the grassroots leader to say as he pleased, even if it were threats the man was making.
I believe that Amos Yee has forgiven the man, an adult man.
In fact, it would be more accurate to say that Amos Yee probably found nothing to forgive at all, for that is what he believes in – the freedom which must be accorded to everyone to say and express as he would.
And so we return to Neo whose actions are the epitome of intolerance and cowardice.
According to news reports, Neo – in a rather grandiose self-righteous manner – told the court “he hoped everyone would learn from this”.
Well, he is not wrong.
But it is Neo, more than anyone else, who needs to learn from this incident – to learn that being intolerant is not how society progresses, and that striking a boy and then cowardly flee is an entirely shameful and disgraceful act.
Indeed, instead of Neo teaching Amos Yee a lesson, the truth is the other way round – that Neo should learn from a young boy who, despite all the abuse heaped on him this past one and a half month, has chosen to smile at his abusers, stand his ground on what he believes even if meant going to jail, and forgive those adults who claim to know “the way of the world” (as Neo himself claims to) but instead behave like barbarians.
So, let’s not behave in the same manner as those like Neo would.
Let us forgive and move on.
Neo has made a mistake and has apologised. He too has a family who worries for him.
Leave his business be. Let him make his living.
And respect his admiration for Lee Kuan Yew, even if we do not agree with it.
For this is what Amos Yee would want.
Let us not do violence against others, in any form, in the name of defending or seeking justice for Amos Yee.
It is forgiveness which will take us forward, not hatred, intolerance and abuse.