My Take

Absolute freedom of speech comes at a price

Young Singaporean blogger Amos Yee, like some of the editors at Charlie Hebdo magazine, stick by their convictions despite the cost

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 October, 2016, 1:36am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 October, 2016, 1:36am

Most people believe in freedom of speech but only very few advocate absolute and unconditional free speech.

Singaporean teenage blogger Amos Yee and the people behind the French magazine Charlie Hebdo are among those few who have the courage of their conviction. For that, they pay a heavy price.

Yee, 17, was jailed for six weeks late last month after he was found guilty of “wounding religious feelings” by posting online videos critical of Islam and Christianity.

This is his second prison term in as many years. Last year, he spent four weeks in jail for insulting Christians. But many believe it was his critical comments about Singapore’s late founder Lee Kuan Yew that got him in trouble.

In an interview with an American newscaster, Yee said you should be able to say anything at anytime about anyone, provided you can back up your statements with facts and evidence.

That’s the only real meaning of free speech, according to him. It’s hard to argue with him logically. The ideal of free speech is analogous to our telling children not to lie, yet there are so many lies in our private and public lives.

Singapore court sends teen blogger Amos Yee back to jail for criticising Christianity and Islam

Some lies are useful and make the world go round. Likewise, avoiding insults to other people’s politics and religion helps avert conflicts.

In his video clips, Yee finds murder, genocide, rape, incest and masturbation in the Good Book. He also thinks the terrorist group Islamic State is merely following the precepts taught in their religion’s founding text. He says, mockingly, that IS followers are the true Muslims; the others are hypocrites.

Previously, just as his nation mourned the death of its revered founder, Yee went out of his way to criticise Lee, showing charts and statistics to buttress his case.

The Roman advice of “never speak ill of the dead” is not among his mottos.

In all this, he is similar to Charlie Hebdo’s slain editors who kept running cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in sexually degrading positions. Their defence was that they insulted all the great religions, not just Islam. It’s a bit like having Donald Trump say he didn’t just insult this or that woman but all women. That’s cold comfort for those who are insulted.

By punishing Yee with a proportionate sentence, the Singaporean court might have saved him from the hands of religious fanatics.