That Amos Yee fella.

Why the US should just send the teenager back to Singapore for his remaining criminal offences.

I woke up this morning to find an update on my Facebook wall with a post from Mr. Kenneth Jeyaratnam stating his support for Amos Yee’s application for asylum in the United States of America.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the names, Kenneth is the Secretary-General of the Reform Party, while Amos Yee is a Singaporean blogger, Youtube personality and former child actor who has been charged for a number of criminal cases in Singapore that includes an expletive-laden Youtube criticism of the late Lee Kuan Yew, and other Youtube videos that were deemed derogatory and offensive to Islam and Christianity.

Before I go on, I feel it’s necessary for me to state some disclaimers:

(1) I have respect for Kenneth Jeyaratnam as a friend, and admire his passion in trying to make a difference to his home country as a politician; however, friendship does not necessarily mean we have to agree on everything, and it does not mean I advocate his viewpoints or support his political campaigning. It certainly also does not mean I am a member of, or affiliated to, the Reform Party.

(2) Neither am I a member of, or affiliated to, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in any way; I am a entrepreneur and businessman, and while I do care about future growth and development of my country, I have no interest to participate in any politicking or activities intended to win voter confidence. I make a clear distinction between trying to make a difference and establishing a political career (which I have no interest in).

(3) I have nothing against Amos Yee; I do, however, have a mindset where one has to bear the consequences of one’s actions and be responsible for them, for this to me is the very basis on which a person’s integrity is built on. I don’t know Amos personally, but I don’t see it as a problem: he may be a nice guy to the people who know him (I don’t know for sure), yet at the same time, and after viewing some of his very public Youtube posts, I can understand why members of the Muslim and Christian communities are upset. I don’t judge the person, but I am against his actions.

All that said, and having read Kenneth’s statement on his blog, I would like to counter propose a statement of my own: that in my humble personal opinion, I think the United States government should consider repatriation of Amos Yee back to Singapore to face outstanding criminal charges, including 6 charges of sedition for allegedly wounding the sentiments of Muslims and Christians, and 2 charges of non-cooperation with the Police for investigations. Yee also faces charges of desertion for failure to report for his National Service obligations.

While I can see valid argument points raised by Kenneth, I question the validity of any attempt to paint a picture where Yee is portrayed as a political refugee — generally defined as someone who has fled his or her country because of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or affiliation to a social group or organisation.

What Yee is, in reality, is someone facing criminal charges no different from any other citizen who commits similar offences in Singapore. No one has denied him his rights as a citizen; and in fact, he was granted the option of a home detention as opposed to continued remand in the penitentiary system pending his court sentencing— a privilege that, unfortunately, he has abused and taken advantage of to run away to the United States.

In my opinion, this is no different from a felon in the US facing State and Federal charges who has chosen to renege and avoid facing imprisonment for offences committed.

Amos Yee is not a radical or terrorist.

Insofar as the severity of Yee’s offences are concerned, he is not a radical, and neither is he a known terrorist. His actions may not have caused the same level of devastation or even financial impact as, say, a Jihadist planting a bomb in a building, or even an anarchist advocating civil war in his own country; yet we cannot stand by and say nothing with regards to his seditious antics — including tearing up a copy of the Quran and then proceeding to simulate a very graphical sexual act by “humping” what remained of that very same Quran, and his choice of making derogatory remarks concerning religious symbols, including the crucifix.

I think we must not forget that while Singapore is becoming a diverse society that seeks to be more inclusive and accepting of personal viewpoints and beliefs, we are a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society that has seen a dark history of racial tensions — and being a small country we simply cannot afford any subversive elements attempting to, or instigating, intolerance to any one ethnic, religious or social group. Downplaying Yee’s actions to just “child’s play” is equally counter-productive to the integration of our social fabric: the lad has clearly touched a raw nerve and sensitivities of two major religious groupings and should therefore not be taken lightly.

While there are no laws in the US that makes it a criminal offence to mock the President or any other heads of state of any nation for that matter, I think the US government in all its wisdom does acknowledge, recognise, and respect that such freedoms of expression cannot be expected of all countries it has dealings with.

In any case, while societal progress has seem more openness in the way people express their views and opinions (take me writing here for instance), Asian societies by and large remain traditional and conservative, with respect for authority, custom and tradition still pretty much permeated throughout large segments of the Asian nations. And whilst liberals may disavow such notions, respect should not be confused with tyranny in the same fashion that criminal persecution does not equal oppression of one’s rights — arguments that supporters of Yee often use to justify their support, that he is “oppressed” by a “tyrannical government”.

Singapore’s prison system is pro-humanity.

Another accusation often used by Amos Yee supporters is his much-publicised “torture” during his remand in the Singapore penitentiary system: he is painted to be bound against his will, surrounded by murderers and sexual offenders, ignored and ill-treated by wardens, deprived of rights of access to his family and friends, and was shackled hand and foot at his court hearings.

My question: how many of Amos Yee’s supporters had actually worked in the prison service or truly understand operational procedures of our prison system in Singapore?

I was a former senior officer with the Singapore Prison Service, and I can say for sure that compassion and humanity are part of the core values that underscore what it takes to be a prison officer. We have come a long way from days of old where prison officers were merely guards tasked with keeping prisoners behind lock and key, and indeed, that Yee’s supporters come out and paint a very negative picture of prison officers is an injustice to the work done by my brothers and sisters in the service: we work hard to uphold the vision of being true Captains of Lives, and while discipline, and the safe and secure custody of offenders to keep our country safe is our mandate, we also place an equal emphasis on providing opportunities for rehabilitation of inmates in our care so we reduce the risk of re-offending.

There are, of course, people who do not believe in the prison system, that the very act of keeping individuals behind bars as punishment is an oppression in itself. Unfortunately we do not live in a perfect, Utopian system where people left to their own devices can take full responsibility for their actions so much so it makes punishment and discipline irrelevant. But here’s the thing: this is where compassion and humanity comes in, because we recognise that being locked up is already a punishment, and therefore there is no need to inflict any further unnecessary punishment to offenders. In fact, it would be an offence for a prison officer to mete out unsanctioned corporal punishment to inmates; there are former adjudication procedures to follow in the event inmates commit institutional offences, and there are, equally, avenues for appeal within the system.

So it’s not exactly a case of “anyhow give out punishment”, because it would put the officers’ careers at risk.

Prison procedures also involve putting inmates on mechanical restraints whenever they go on external movements, i.e. outside of the confines of the prison. This is common practice everywhere else in the world, regardless of the nature of offences committed by the offender. The use of mechanical restraints are not only used to assure the safety of the general public, but also used to safeguard the inmate’s own personal safety, such as in situations where he/she is suspected to engage in self-harm within the prison.

As for mixing Amos with “rapists and murderers”, prison procedures also dictate there has to be administrative segregation of offenders — adolescent offenders are separated from adult populations, and in fact, there is no way sexual offenders and murderers will be mixed with other segments of the inmate population because they are likely to be more closely monitored due to the nature of their offences than say, a petty pickpocket.

Amos Yee was certainly not deprived of his right of access to his family and lawyers: the fact that he was able to complain of “mistreatment” to his family that was subsequently made very public shows no restrictions were imposed other than designated visitation slots — did the Prisons in any way block his lawyer and family from visiting him and speaking to him?

If anything, I think the only thing that would be of severe oppression to Amos Yee would be depriving him of access to internet connectivity so he can blog, Tweet or take selfies of his “pitiful state” behind bars.

As for “regimental regime” imposed in Reformative Training Centre (RTC), this is part of a larger programme to try to provide direction and guide wayward kids, but it isn’t the be all and end all of programmes. Amos certainly didn’t stay in the system long enough to get to the progressive stages of rehabilitation that includes lifeskills enrichment programmes to positively engage inmates and provide meaningful use of their time during their incarceration.

Has the boy learnt anything?

Let’s assume that accusations of oppression (if any) that targets Amos Yee is valid, and escape to the US is justified: has Amos Yee learnt anything at all out of the whole drama?

In my opinion, the answer, sadly, is “no”. Just look at his diatribe about immigration policies of the US once he learns that he may not be granted asylum — once again, he tries to belittle the system, and he questions the policies and procedures of another sovereign nation just because he doesn’t get what he wants. The audacity of this boy, and his blatant disregard for institutionalised systems of rules and the laws, both of his own country, and that of a country he is trying so desperately to gain entry into, is beyond description. He may not be a public danger compared to a terrorist or malicious black-hat hacker, but his self-entitled thinking endangers not people around him, but himself more than anything.

And let’s assume he does indeed gain asylum: how long before he starts his old ways inciting public anger and instigating hate by mocking religious, cultural and social practices, norms and mores in a country that’s just as much as plural society as Singapore, if not more?

Freedom of thought and speech comes with a social awareness and responsibility to ensure one does not mistaken such freedom with a hall pass to make a mockery of other people’s cultures, beliefs, practices and way of life. You may think he is but a child: in a country where every other adolescent son, brother and grandchild his age is undergoing training or serving to protect, defend and safeguard the security of their families and their nation’s sovereignty, it is sad to see his maturity of thought has not progressed beyond that of a bratty five-year-old. Perhaps it is just as well he chose to desert, because I shudder to imagine what sort of trouble he would bring to his commanders and his peers with his selfish entitled mindset, and refusal to follow the rules: would he, for instance, take safety precautions lightly to the extent he endangers the lives of himself and others by putting them in harm’s way during a live-firing exercise, for instance? Or that he may well just refuse to work with a Muslim/Christian/Hindu comrade-in-arms because he thinks himself more superior than they are, and thus compromising an operation, even if it’s a matter of life or death.

Or maybe the truth is simply Amos Yee behaves the way he does because he is afraid of taking on the responsibilities that come with adulthood in a society that values contribution instead of just who you are. Or think you are. Perhaps the inner child in him is screaming out for attention time and again, because he thinks no one loves him or cares for him the way we used to when he was a familiar face in the movies he once starred in; that the cute little smart boy on the big screen now has to wrestle with adult issues, and that’s frightening for him.

I’ve done profiling of criminals of all ages enough to understand one point that law enforcement officers already know: whatever he is doing is just over-compensation for a fear of uncertainty. If I were to feel sorry for him, it would just be down to how he allowed his insecurities and inner demons to consume him; but the reality — and I have said this time and again — is that I have no more empathy for the lad, and I believe many Singaporeans feel the same — even the aunties who used to find him so adorable during his child acting days.

Kenneth: if you are reading this, I’m sorry, but I have to articulate my disagreement with your views. But this in no way changes my opinion of you as the person I know you are, and I wish you all the best in this little crusade you’ve chosen to lead.

Amos: There is really no point in resorting to name-calling, and I can only hope that speaking to you as an adult would somehow make it easier to understand that despite what you think happens when you decide to challenge authority, speak up against “tyranny” or “oppression”, voice out your personal opinion of people etc, the only people that are going to end up hurt as a result of your actions is yourself and your family. But I’m sure you know that already. So if there is any inkling of the concept of responsibility that resonates with you, and if it amounts to anything, my advice is: grow up and be a man, own up to the responsibilities of your actions. I’m not saying you should come back and serve your sentence and NS if you really think life in another country would be far better for you, but if anything, it would help to at least reflect on your actions and ask yourself — truthfully, for once — who is really oppressing or victimising you.

The answer is probably already staring back at you from a mirror.