Ex-TRS editor jailed for demonising foreigners
The Real Singapore's former editor Ai Takagi was yesterday jailed 10 months for sedition. RONALD LOH (firstname.lastname@example.org) reports on what went on in court
Hers was a slow-burning brand of sedition - one that allowed ill-will to fester, grow and leave a lasting impression.
That was how Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan described the way Ai Takagi, the former editor of The Real Singapore (TRS), operated.
In 1½ years, she reached out to millions of viewers by doctoring, fabricating and publishing articles that had the tendency to promote ill-will among different classes of people here. This was the most serious case of sedition in Singapore, said DPP Kannan in his submissions yesterday.
He added that past cases merely involved offending material posted on a pet-interest website, a personal Facebook account or mailed out in comic booklets - nowhere as far-reaching.
Said DPP Kannan: "By using a toxic cocktail of overtly vulgar language, innuendoes, leveraging off controversial material to demonise foreigners and outright fabrication, TRS was far more effective at fostering ill-will and hostility than any of the (previous) offenders."
Takagi, 23, an Australian national of Japanese descent, was sentenced to 10 months' jail yesterday for four counts of sedition, with four other charges taken into consideration. (See report above.)
Court papers said Takagi was responsible for TRS' day-to-day editorial operations. She controlled all content on the website and every article was uploaded with her approval.
In his submissions, said DPP Kannan called Takagi a calculating opportunist who drove traffic to her website by generating a groundswell of resentment towards foreigners.
Her motive? Pure commercial greed, he said.
Between December 2013 and last April, TRS raked in almost half a million dollars in advertising revenue, court papers said.
The website had more than 134 million page views from May 2014 to March last year before it was shut down in May.
"For her personal benefit, she was willing to risk damaging the delicate social harmony which has been fostered by the collective effort of generations of Singaporeans," he said.
And Takagi was successful in causing widespread public disquiet, evident from the vile comments - which DPP Kannan said were too offensive to be read out in court - posted by enraged netizens in response to the articles.
She used a fake name, Farhan, to actively hide her identity, he added.
He said she was also not remorseful and her last-minute apology in court yesterday was inconsistent with her previous behaviour.
For example, Takagi doctored and published an article on Feb 4 last year, falsely claiming that a Filipino family had caused an altercation between the police and participants at a Thaipusam procession.
Interviewed by the police two days later, she claimed she could not remember posting it and had merely skimmed through the title and added links to the Facebook videos.
On at least 101 occasions, she replied "not relevant" to questions posed by the police officer, court papers said.
It was only when she realised the police had traced the TRS articles to her IP address that she began cooperating with them, said DPP Kannan.
They're going to start familiy
She is a mother-to-be who now faces a 10-month jail term.
During mitigation yesterday, the lawyer of Ai Takagi, 23, who pleaded guilty to sedition earlier this month, told the court that she was eight weeks pregnant.
Mr Choo Zheng Xi said that his client found out about the "bittersweet news" on March 3 - four days before her Singaporean husband, Yang Kaiheng, 27, claimed trial to a similar set of charges.
"While Takagi and Yang are happy that they are going to start a family, Takagi feels deep sorrow that there is every possibility her child may be born while she is serving her term of imprisonment," said Mr Choo.
But Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan said in his submissions that the Singapore Prison Service has the necessary medical facilities to ensure the mother and baby are taken care of during the jail term.
Mr Choo urged the court to consider that Takagi was only 20 at the time of her first sedition offence.
She started The Real Singapore (TRS) website in 2012 and was the one running it, he said.
The University of Queensland law undergraduate had become interested in Singapore politics through a course in Asian legal systems, said Mr Choo.
At the same time, Takagi learnt more about Singapore from Yang, whom she met through the university's karaoke and gaming club.
Yang studied environmental sciences at the same university.
They got married about four years later, in October last year.
Mr Choo said Takagi had assisted the police in understanding how her website was run and administered and how she generated and managed articles.
She has now realised the weight and gravity of her actions and knows she had done wrong, he said.
"(She) has turned her attention away from the sociopolitical online space and spends her time caring for Yang's paralysed father and occasionally helps Yang with his ramen stall," said Mr Choo.
Takagi apologised in court yesterday for the harm she had caused through her articles on TRS.
"I love Singapore and hope to call it my home permanently," she said.
"Before the case started, I was not fully aware of the level of sensitivity needed when dealing with topics related to racial and religious issues.
"I will definitely be more careful with my online postings in future."
Such acts will not be tolerated
It was a sustained campaign to publish seditious material over at least 1½ years, said District Judge Salina Ishakduring sentencing yesterday.
During this period, Ai Takagi peddled xenophobia to her readers and sowed ill-will towards a wider group of foreigners and Singaporeans indiscriminately - which is a serious offence.
The judge called the former editor of The Real Singapore (TRS) "a shrewd businesswoman" who was driven by financial gains and committed sedition to enrich herself.
She noted the accused had taken active steps to hide her identity and evade the law by using the fake name Farhan as well as setting up the business overseas.
"I noted that the police were able to arrest her only as she had happened to be in Singapore on holiday when the first information report was made against her," said Judge Salina.
She added that the offending articles were not removed until the TRS website was shut down by authorities on May 3 last year.
The judge agreed with the prosecution that today's technological advances have made the dissemination of racist and xenophobic messages more dangerous.
"The present case serves as a timely reminder that one cannot and should not hide behind the anonymity of cyberspace to pen or publish seditious articles which promote feelings of ill-will and hostility towards foreigners and Singaporeans.
"Such acts will not be tolerated."
The judge allowed Takagi to defer sentence for a month to make arrangements to care for her father-in-law and her husband's ramen stall.
About the case
The former editor of The Real Singapore (TRS), Ai Takagi, were charged in court last April.
She was sentenced yesterday for these charges:
- An article that falsely asserted that a Filipino family caused an incident between the police and participants at last year's Thaipusam procession.
- An article alleging a Filipino employee had bribed a colleague to delete traces of the Filipino's misdeeds to ensure that only his countrymen were hired by the company.
- An article that "casts PRC women as home-wreckers whose main motive was 'trying to hook' Singaporean men and destroying Singaporean families in the process".
- An article that had an editor's note warning companies about hiring foreigners over Singaporeans.
These charges were taken into consideration during sentencing:
- A Facebook post with similar content as the first charge.
- An article that claimed Filipino managers working here would give preferential treatment to subordinates of the same nationality at the expense of Singaporeans.
- Copied an article from citizen journalism website Stomp, doctoring it to include that the woman was a Chinese national and posting it on TRS website.
- Failing to hand over financial statements required by the police for investigations.
Takagi pleaded guilty on March 8. Her husband, Yang Kaiheng, who claimed trial, is due back in court on Monday.