I wrote the following last weekend but did not publish it until now because Amos Yee’s case was still sub judice:
I avoided making any public comment on the Amos Yee case because parties associated with the PAP would seize upon anything to suggest that some eminence grise was behind his video, that Amos was being exploited for some perverse political enterprise. This accusation is regularly leveled at opponents of the PAP. When five SMRT drivers were in jail following the bus drivers’ strike in 2012, the authorities showed them a photo of me and asked if they recognised me. No doubt someone was most anxious to divert the story from that of labour discrimination to one of political manipulation so as to absolve the SMRT and, therefore, the government, from any culpability.
However, tonight, as I contemplate the conclusion of the trial and await the judge’s verdict next Tuesday, I have one or two things I feel I must say even if only the ISD pays attention! In all of my forty-five years, I have never been so disgusted, so ashamed to be a Singaporean as I have in these last 6 weeks watching the state torment and bludgeon a teenage boy who had, in its opinion, the temerity to utter sentiments that, if the truth be told, many, many people were feeling in the wake of Lee Kuan Yew’s death. I need not rehearse the points made by Amos in his fateful video post but I’d wager there are many who did not share the public mourning and did agree with Amos that the man who was being so lamented had a tremendously dark side which resulted in terrible outcomes for the people whom he made his enemies and that, therefore, his passing from the political stage was welcomed. I am one of them: I welcome his passing from the loathsome, crepuscular political stage he engendered.
I was so profoundly disgusted to watch the state use all the means at its disposal to throw a bulwark against this boy for fear that the sacrosanct memory of the departed prime minister might be tarnished. Can anyone be blamed for entertaining the suspicion that the real reason they treated him thus was not because of his obscenity or his harassment or his sedition but plainly and simply to safeguard the former prime minister whose posthumous reputation will be so useful to the PAP’s vote share at election time?
Not content to put the fear of, well, god, into him, the public authorities arrested him in his grandparents’ home, handcuffed him and hauled him away, remanded without adult protection for days before they put him in front of a judge. And as if to compound or underline the government’s bellicosity, the state-run media published downright untrue headlines about the case.
I was disgusted and ashamed to watch a child handcuffed and shackled in my name, and wearing a nauseatingly ugly prison uniform while surrounded by any number of policemen. This treatment has continued every time Amos has been brought to court and no public body or official thought it apposite to enter an objection. Each time I read that Amos was so shackled, I wonder what threat the public authorities believe this skinny sixteen year old poses to public safety. Well, let me tell them there is none. This boy is not violent; he is neither a danger to himself nor to others. He only offended by his words. There was no reason whatsoever to treat him the way the police did. And speaking as a social worker who has worked for many years with children, I am so very deeply concerned at the long-term damage this experience will do to him.
To watch the state deal with a gifted child on the threshold of a lustrous adulthood, the government utters a fundamental untruth when it says that people are our only resource. In fact, its only resource is its own reputation, however beleaguered it currently is. And to extend it, it would bully a child.
There is no public official today who can be proud of himself for the treatment dealt this boy well before he was convicted of any offence. Even the shameful spectacle of the public prosecutor bargaining for a reduction in Amos’ bail conditions if he would submit to psychological assessment had nothing whatsoever to do with the purpose of bail, which is to compel subsequent attendance in court. Amos is not a flight risk. Therefore the suspicion that the state intended to make life as difficult for him as possible cannot have escaped the mind of anyone who has paid attention to the case.
That the state considered the utterances of this boy to endanger the reputation of a two thousand year old institution and the memory of a world renowned statesman, widely considered the father of his nation, was testament not so much to the virulence of his words but to the scandalous wickedness of the state which punishes a young boy for daring to offend the memory of the PAP’s founder and jeopardise his electoral utility.
I am nauseated by how the justice system has treated this boy. And every parent, every social worker, every teacher, should be equally scandalised. To me, not a lawyer, this is a repudiation of the sacred confidence we vest in our courts. Tonight, the state stands indicted before the court of natural justice.
I sincerely and earnestly hope the PAP will suffer for so doing come election time.
Why has no public body raised its voice in defence of this boy? Why did the Director of Social Welfare, whom we charge to safeguard vulnerable children, not assume her statutory duty and inquire into his well-being. Why did she not make appropriate inquiries when he disclosed parental abuse? She cannot pretend to be ignorant because the entire nation was aware of how he was abused at home and in public. Until this moment no social worker has called for this young man to be protected rather than attacked and assaulted. As a social worker I am so thoroughly ashamed of the members of my profession, of social work teachers at SIM and NUS, of the Singapore Association of Social Workers, who have refused, in craven cowardice, to raise their voices in defence of a child whose “crime” was to say something that some, and only some, considered objectionable.
That stranger who hit Amos outside the State Courts encapsulated and summed up the state’s attitude to Amos. And it is this: that if you challenge the status quo, the received wisdom, the reputation of those with power, you will be hammered and bludgeoned. His entitlement to punch Amos was an entitlement he believed conferred upon him: he watched how the state dealt with Amos and felt himself justified in replicating it. And the state has confirmed this view by keeping his identity private while splashing Amos’ identity all over our media, both print and broadcast. As if to quantify and codify the prevailing temper, that so-called journalist, Bertha Henson, cheered from her cowardly sideline when Amos was assaulted. That malevolent woman, together with everyone who approved of the unprovoked assault on Amos, has forfeited her right to be regarded any more as a human being because she has connived in the abuse of a child. To harm a child is inhuman; to cheer when it is done is anti-human.
The state which has played out this sorry saga must hang its head in shame. Amos Yee was not just assaulted on the piazza of the State Courts, he was assaulted by Singapore itself. It is no longer, nor can it be, a return to business as usual. Because our community and our government have today descended to the depths of depravity where children are beaten in public, where the system closes an eye as we shackle and handcuff them, where journalists cheer as children are assaulted, where newspapers write misleading headlines.
All in the name of protecting a dead politician whose enormous reputation and, indeed, many misdeeds, have neither need for nor right to protection.
* Vincent is a lecturer at SIM University.