Why so much anger, ACLS, LawSoc, MHA?

Why so much anger, ACLS, LawSoc, MHA?
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So much anger, so much passive-aggressive grandstanding. That is how one feels after reading the statements from the Association of Criminal Lawyers Singapore (ACLS), the Law Society Singapore (LawSoc), and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

They were responding to the judgement in the United States on the political asylum application by Amos Yee. The judge had declared that Yee was indeed “politically persecuted” in Singapore and granted the 18-year old’s asylum request.

The statements of the three organisations seem to have a hint of … what shall we call it? Unsatisfied resignation? It’s like they are very unhappy and disturbed by the judge’s ruling but realise that they are helpless in doing anything about it.

“If America wants this misguided recalcitrant, it can have him,” the president of the ACLS, Sunil Sudheesan, said in his letter, rather unconvincingly. You can almost see the smirk on Sunil’s face as he bangs out each word, with a generous discharge of venom no doubt spilling all over his keyboard.

“Our social peace is too precious to sacrifice on the altar of unbridled free speech,” he declared from his throne.

Unbridled free speech – yes, the fire that is also a curse on all and sundry!

And as if to better Mr Sunil’s clichéd use of clichés, the LawSoc comes along and haughtily pronounces:

“This pretextual insinuation and underwhelming undermining [in Grossman LLC’s statement] of the Singapore judiciary is both baseless and mischievous.”

“Pretextual insinuation”?

“Underwhelming undermining”?

Which intern came up with that?

Well, Mr Law Society, if the “undermining” is so “underwhelming”, why do you see the need to protest so loudly?

Clearly, the perceived “undermining” of which you speak is not “underwhelming” at all!

If it was, you would not take “strong exception” to Grossman LLC’s statement, would you?

Such strong exception to such an underwhelming undermining! Woo!

And finally, there is the MHA’s statement, which reads like a robot monotonously enunciating a bucket list of items.

“Yee was charged for….”

“He pleaded guilty…”

“Yee was charged again…”

“Yee had engaged in hate speech…”

Ye shall be banished into the wilderness of unbridled free speech!

And after the deadpan regurgitating of bland sentences, the MHA goes into spoilt brat mode.

“It is the prerogative of the US to take in such people who engage in hate speech,” the MHA says, and you can almost see it stomping its feet, as it were, not unlike one rookie election candidate several years ago. But the MHA, unlike said candidate, knew what it wanted to say.

“There are many more such people, around the world, who deliberately engage in hate speech, and who may be prosecuted. Some of them, will no doubt take note of the US approach, and consider applying for asylum in the US.”


Did these organisations all suddenly take in a flood of interns who, inexperienced, were nonetheless given the task of crafting these 3 statements?

It is quite astounding, if you pause and think about it, the amount of anger behind each of the statements, as if the person who crafted it was personally involved in Yee’s case, or that the person has some sort of personal vendetta against Yee.

One would have thought that the role of the ACLS is to assist those who have infringed the law, and to provide counsel as best they can. But here, we have the ACLS actually making rather personal attacks against an 18-year old, describing him as a “misguided recalcitrant”.

How professional is that?

The MHA is no better. Is there a need, really, to slight the US just because one of its many judges disagrees with you?

“The US adopts a different standard, and allows some such hate speech under the rubric of freedom of speech.”

“The US”?

That is such a misguided broadsweep of what the freedom of speech is all about in the States. Surely, the Ministry is aware of this?

It is quite unfair to slam the entire “US” – and accuse it of adopting “a different standard” – when the MHA knows perfectly clear that in fact the Department of Homeland Security had opposed Yee’s application.

And finally, we have the Law Society which in usual times would be quiet as a mouse. But we do not blame the society, of course. It is muzzled under the Legal Professions Act, section 38(1)(c).

The section is commonly interpreted as banning the society from speaking out unless asked to by the government.

A muzzle law, if you will.

So it is a little strange that LawSoc issued the statement on Yee.

In a report by the Straits Times in July 2008, then Law Society president, Philip Jeyaretnam, was reported to have written in the Law Gazette in 2006 arguing that the profession “ought to be freed to express its views on civil liberties while keeping out of partisan politics.”

The Straits Times reported:

“The Law Ministry’s reply – a clear “No” – indicated an unstated view that this would be venturing into politics.”

Straits Times, 2008

So, according to the Straits Times’ report, it is quite clear that the LawSoc is not to speak up on matters of “civil liberties” or “partisan politics” or even just “politics”.

The obvious question now is: why is the LawSoc speaking up on Yee’s case? Isn’t Yee’s case one about the civil liberty of free speech, and the political question of alleged political persecution by the Singapore government of Yee?

“Amos Yee was lawfully prosecuted (not persecuted) in a court of law,” LawSoc said in its statement. “In his 2016 prosecution, he pleaded guilty to charges of wounding religious feelings of Christians and Muslims.”

Aren’t these questions and issues of civil liberties, as Yee contended in his trials in Singapore and in his asylum application in the States?

The LawSoc ended its statement with this:

Grossman LLC’s media statement on this point perfectly illustrates all that is wrong about the right to, but not responsibility for, free speech.”

Again, isn’t the LawSoc forbidden from speaking about “civil liberties”? And isn’t free speech one of these civil liberties?

Maybe someone should give such statements a once-over before issuing them?