Kenneth Jeyaretnam: Amos Yee – Singapore’s Youngest Political Prisoner

Yesterday I attended Amos Yee’s sentencing hearing at the State Courts at 9.30am. As you may be aware, Amos has refused to accept probation. The AG had asked for probation, presumably to save the PAP the international opprobrium for jailing a child who had spoken the truth about the late Lee Kuan Yew.

Instead Amos requested that he serve a jail term instead.  After all he had already served a longer period in remand than the man who assaulted him received after automatic good behaviour. However the AG objected and asked the judge to sentence Amos to reformative training instead on the grounds that he was unrepentant.

For those of you who are not familiar with what “reformative training” is in the Singapore context, let me enlighten you. The regulations governing it can be found in the Criminal Procedure Code (Reformative Training) Regulations 2010. A person sentenced to reformative training must serve at least eighteen months but no longer than three years. However after release they will be under the supervision of a probation officer and must comply with any conditions imposed.  Any breach of those conditions will result in six months additional sentence. This supervision lapses four years after the date of the original sentence so in the case of someone sentenced to three years reformative training the supervision period is one year but if the sentence is only eighteen months the supervision period is three years.

This is what an AsiaOne article had to say about reformative training:

Reformative training is a strict prison regime for young offenders. It consists of foot drills, counselling and education. Offenders spend at least 11/2 years behind bars. Upon release, they are placed under supervision, which includes wearing ankle tags that track their movements electronically.

The article was about how the courts deemed reformative training as a suitable punishment for young loan shark runners who would not be allowed the “soft” option of probation even for a first offence. However the runner in this case was 20 years old and in NS.

It revulses me that the court and the AG could  somehow think that the punishment option for someone defacing and vandalising the flats of those owing money to loan sharks, presumably with threats of violence intended to intimidate the unfortunate debtors, and other violent young criminals is appropriate for a  child like Amos.

I say “child” advisedly even though our law treats him as an adult when he reaches 16 despite not being allowed to vote till you are 21. Yet another inconsistency in Justice Kaur’s judgement was that she claimed to be protecting the youth of Singapore from being corrupted and depraved by Amos’s supposedly obscene image while she was treating Amos as an adult for the purpose of sentencing. Amos’s blog and video were clearly aimed at adults and viewed mostly by adults and not children.

I will get back to yesterday’s hearing. The queue for the public gallery was quite short, perhaps because the hearing was originally scheduled for 2pm but was then moved to 9.30am. Singaporeans do not like to get up so early. The atmosphere among the crowd was slightly flippant considering that it was a child’s future we were talking about. When I said that the Government was out to break Amos, some people said jocularly that he would be more likely to break the AG and the judicial system by his refusal to bend. A young man in a suit made some comment to the effect that unlike the “soft” West we treated criminals like Amos as adults from the age of 16 and that the “shackles” which presumably soft-hearted liberals like myself objected to were just cuffs.

After a delay while the prosecution and defence lawyers met outside the courtroom, Justice Kaur entered at about 9.50am. I expected someone older and tougher looking. Instead she looked quite slight and undoubtedly younger than me. She was extremely soft-spoken so it was very difficult to hear what she was saying. It was difficult to fit her image to her reactionary and inconsistent judgement.

The DPP argued that as Amos had not “learnt his lesson” and refused to agree to probation that a reformative training sentence was necessary. He said that Amos’s conduct and his decision to make the image and video  public again demonstrated the need for rehabilitation and appropriate counselling. The DPP said 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.”

The judge agreed with him and said that “Rehabilitation is the fundamental tenet of our justice system” and ruled that he be remanded for three weeks to assess his mental and physical suitability for reformative training.

Alfred Dodwell, Amos’s lawyer, argued in vain that Amos should be given a fine or a jail term equivalent to the time he has already spent on remand and pointed out quite correctly that Amos was being punished for a second offence for which he had not been tried.

At the end of the hearing Amos was taken into custody again. I saw his mother passing him a plastic bag which made me feel very sad.

There can be no doubt that in this case “rehabilitation” is just a euphemism. The PAP Government mean to break Amos’s spirit through a harsh regime that is worse than prison. They would like to show Singaporeans that anyone here who dares to challenge the official narrative will be harshly dealt with.

In totalitarian regimes like Communist China, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany “rehabilitation” meant years of imprisonment in harsh concentration camps. Everyone remembers the infamous words above Auschwitz  which said “Arbeit Macht Frei” which loosely translated meant “Work Makes You Free” which was meant to be a sadistic joke about rehabilitation.

I feel only a slightly milder version of this punishment regime is in store for Amos. He will be forced to work and if he refuses will likely be punished.  I am concerned that reformative training may include caning if Amos refuses to obey the orders given to him by his captors. He has years of imprisonment to look forward to and when he is inducted into NS he will probably end up serving his time in a military prison. Meanwhile a father who failed to strap his toddler into a car seat causing her death in an accident was only fined. And Lee Kuan Yew made countless racist remarks designed to wound the feelings of minorities and was commended globally for his wisdom and candour.

Even with his time on remand Amos has served more time than the man who attacked him. The reports said that he would not be with adult inmates. However since Amos is already being treated as an adult that seems just another example of the AG’s disingenuity. He will presumably be placed with the kind of hardened criminals who are normally considered suitable for reformative training. He wlll probably be bullied and may be sexually assaulted. Of course many comments from PAP supporters and LKY worshippers on the internet were that rape was much too good for him.

The PAP Government’s treatment of Amos is an international embarrassment to them and to Singapore. The PAP always justify draconian restrictions on our freedoms by saying we enjoy Swiss standards of living as  a result. But I look around and I can see that we have neither, except maybe PAP Ministers and their relatives and wealthy foreigners. Steve Wozniak, who founded Apple with Steve Jobs.  said no innovation or creativity would come out of SIngapore. Is it any surprise?

I called Amos Singapore’s youngest political prisoner which led to the usual fierce attacks from people saying that he was tried and convicted.  However so was Nelson Mandela who received a sentence of life imprisonment for terrorism. Yet today no one would dream of calling Nelson Mandela a criminal let alone a terrorist.

I will end by letting Amos’s own words speak for him:

“And yes, to the chagrin of numerous people, I have not ‘learnt my lesson’, nor do I see any ‘lesson’ that needs to be learnt.If you are going to try to tower over me and say that you know something important that that I don’t, make sure you have a compelling argument for that. And if your lessons are borne from a corrupt, archaic Government lead by primitive monkeys,…then sorry if I doubt the credibility of your quote unquote ‘lessons’.

Hopefully history eventually vindicates me. But as of now, district judge Jasvender Kaur has deemed me guilty and the Prosecutor does in fact feel, that 30 months of a place worst than Prison (RTC) should be given to a boy who has posted an internet video.

Unless you do in fact relish in my misery, I hope both of you will be able to sleep at night, and live with the fact that right now, as it is written in the annals of history, my blood is on your hands.”



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