Amos Yee trial plagued by last-minute hospitalisation, growing protests

Jolene Tan, writer and gender equality advocate, speaks at a protest at Hong Lim Park on Jul 5 calling for the Singapore government to free teenage blogger Amos Yee (Photo: Calum Stuart)

By: Calum Stuart

Teenager Amos Yee Pang Sang is due to be sentenced today (Jul 6) against a backdrop of last-minute hopitalisation, a protest at Hong Lim Park and growing calls for the Singapore government to free Yee.

Yee was briefly admitted to hospital late last night due to low blood sugar levels, before being released back to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) a few hours later. Yee has been remanded at IMH for two weeks as a report emerges to find out if the teenager is suitable to undergo a mandatory treatment order in lieu of reformative training.

This was after a reformative training suitability report found Yee to possibly be suffering from autism-spectrum disorder.

In a show of solidarity for the case against Yee, about 500 people attended a protest in Hong Lim Park on Sunday afternoon (Jul 5) calling on the Singapore government to free Yee.

The organisers of Sunday’s protest were damning in their condemnation of the state’s handling of Yee’s case: “We came together to protest what the government is doing to Amos Yee, and to take a stand on freedom of expression,” said Jolovan Wham, a social worker and civil activist. “In the last few years, I think we have seen an unprecedented crackdown on freedom of expression in Singapore.”

Yee posted provocative material on a YouTube video and blog post following the death of Singapore’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew. He was convicted earlier this month of insulting religious freedoms and distributing obscene content. A third charge, for Yee’s statements to the late Lee, was stood down.

“What human purpose is served when we know the criminal justice system has enormous consequences for anyone caught up in it, when and how can we justify it’s use?” said Jolene Tan, writer and gender equality advocate, who spoke at a Sunday’s event. “There is nothing more ordinary in the world than teenagers goading authority and throwing in a few tasteless sexual metaphors.”

The case has received attention both in Singapore and throughout Southeast Asia due to the alleged clampdown on free speech by the Singapore government, with protests previously taking place in Hong Kong and Taiwan in support of the case.

Amnesty International released a statement saying they would recognise Yee as a “prisoner of conscience”, while the United Nations Human Rights Office called for Yee’s release “in line with (Singapore’s) commitment under the UN Convention on the Rights of Child" which the country has ratified.

But in Singapore, Yee’s case has been a polarising issue within the city-state. While there remains a hardcore support base, many Singaporeans believe Yee’s comments account to hate speech.

The protest crowd was largely made up of middle-aged men, as was noted by some members of the audience. “I came here to listen to the speeches and to see who turns up,” said a member of the crowd who did not want to be named. “Quite regrettably, there’s not a lot of young people here - there’s no 16-year olds. ”

Another member of the audience, Terry Lee, said: “I’m just trying to be there to support Amos Yee, because I just felt that what’s going on at the moment isn’t right. I just hope that tomorrow’s sentence will be light, or hopefully he’ll be free.”

While some of the crowd speculated that the government might let Yee off due to the international attention, others noted that the government were looking to set a harsh sentence on Yee to set an example to potential dissenters while demonstrating their tough foreign policy stance.

“We think he will most likely be sent to the Reformative Training Centre (RTC),” Wham said. “What Amos has done is arguably not a crime - he’s just a potty-mouthed teenager.”