“The whole idea of freedom is that people should feel and sense the freedom,” said Amos Yee’s lawyers in a nine-page plea for Amos Yee to receive a light sentence.
In their written plea in mitigation, defence counsel argued:
[Freedom] should be free as air and not provided in restrictive air chambers. Sadly, if Amos is penalised severely, it would send a chilling signal to society. It will have a chilling effect and the fear of posting and comment and behaviour in the cyber-world will mean curtailment of freedom overall.
Defence counsel also pointed out that the Government itself wants Singaporeans to speak up. They referred to a 2005 article where Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam encouraged youths to push the boundaries.
Asking whether “Amos is being punished for what many consider an obnoxious image or video post,” Yee’s lawyers submitted that “the issue is and will always remain not so ‘plainly’ clear”.
“Is Amos facing criminal charges because of his insensitive video that went viral?” they asked as they urged the court to view the issue in the context of the outpouring of grief over Lee Kuan Yew’s passing.
As for Yee’s background, defence counsel said that “whilst he has always been a strong-willed boy, he has nevertheless been excellent in his studies and his overall conduct.” They also highlighted the fact that he has been active on social media since he was 8 years old and point out that “this in itself is not a crime.”
Regarding the obscenity charge, Yee’s lawyers ask why other questionable images are allowed on the internet. They suggest that “What was once deemed unacceptable form of images and/or videos postings are increasingly becoming acceptable…. So this really boils down to a matter of perspective.”
On the question of legislative intent, defence counsel reiterated their claim that the obscenity law (section 292) “was targeted at peddlers of pornography and not at political satire.”
As for the second charge for wounding the religious feelings of Christians, they argued that the aim of the law was to fight extremism. “To-date the precedent raises have looked towards arts that involve an active dissemination of articles to targeted groups of people belonging to particular religious groups,” they added.
In their plea, Yee’s lawyers cited several cases to show that sentences for related offences have typically been light.
In, Sengali Mohd Sultan Haj Mohideen v PP (an s292 case), the guilty person was given 4 weeks imprisonment for possessing 209 obscene magazines for sale.
In another case, Andrew Kiong was sentenced to 2 weeks imprisonment for having printed 16 anti-Muslim cards and leaving it on the cars of which he believed belonged to Muslims.
Yee’s lawyers are seeking a fine for both charges. In the alternative, they ask that the court consider the time already served during Yee’s incarceration in remand. They ask that this be sufficient as the sentence.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Hay Hung Chun said on Tuesday that Yee’s actions “are far from being ‘noble’ or imbued with good intentions”. However, he also said that neither a sentence of a fine nor a term of imprisonment would be suitable in the circumstances.” Instead, he is asking for Amos to receive counselling and be put under probation.
Amos Yee was convicted on May 12 of uploading an obscene image and of making remarks with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of Christians.
In her written judgment, judge Jasvender Kaur explains that the image Yee uploaded is obscene because it “portrays two persons having anal sexual intercourse”. This “would encourage sexual precociousness” and “not only tend to excite teenagers to try out different sexual positions but also deviant sexual activity”. “Such sexual desires and lascivious thoughts would have a corrupting effect on young minds,” she wrote. (See here for a more detailed explanation. See also this and this for a commentary.)
On the second charge, judge Kaur ruled that Yee’s “comments about Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, are clearly derogatory and offensive to Christians.” Therefore, Yee committed an offence since “to wound the religious feelings simply means to give offence to any person.”
Yee will be sentenced on June 2.