The Online Citizen editor, author of article charged with criminal defamation
The Online Citizen's (TOC) editor Terry Xu Yuan Chen has been charged with criminal defamation.
Xu, 36, published an article on the socio-political website on Sept 4 claiming that the Government's highest officers are corrupt and that the Constitution had been tampered with.
He also failed to verify the identity of the author before publishing the claims.
Also charged on Thursday morning was the alleged author of the article, Daniel Augustin De Costa.
In a police release on Wednesday (Dec12), it was revealed that while the article was attributed to a Willy Sum, it was actually written by De Costa.
Investigations revealed that De Costa, 35, wrote the article and passed it off as having been written by another person whose pen name is "Willy Sum".
De Costa allegedly did this by accessing Mr Sum's e-mail without permission and sending the article to TOC in Mr Sum's pen name.
The real Mr Sum was found to have nothing to do with the article in question.
The police had initially raided Xu's and Mr Sum's homes on Nov 20, seizing electronic equipment.
The seizure came after the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) lodged a police report over the article "The take away from Seah Kian Ping's Facebook post", published on TOC on Oct 5.
The article referenced a meeting between several Singaporean activists and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in August.
But at Mr Sum's home, the police found evidence that he did not write the article, and that it had instead been written by De Costa.
When the police went to De Costa's home at about 2.50pm the same day, he was spotted leaving for a flight due to depart in about an hour.
When confronted, De Costa led them to search his home, where the police seized his electronic equipment.
De Costa was also charged for the unauthorised access of computer material, for logging into Mr Sum's e-mail account and sending the e-mail without the latter's consent.
While Xu had not been arrested in relation to the case, The New Paper understands that Mr De Costa was arrested but let out on bail.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Amrin Amin said that TOC's lack of verification was "troubling".
"In fact, TOC has published other articles by Mr De Costa under the name of Willy Sum before," he told the media yesterday.
"In this particular instance, an innocent man was almost implicated, and Mr De Costa could have escaped identification and accountability."
A check showed that several articles attributed to Willy Sum have been published by TOC and The Independent Singapore. It is unclear how many of these were written by Mr De Costa passing off as Sum.
Mr Amrin said that alternative news sites have to be responsible.
Asked if the Government might be seen as being heavy-handed towards such sites, he said that such issues need to be looked at in context.
"The allegations go to the core of the integrity and reputation of leaders and the Government, and this is something that we cannot take lightly," said Mr Amrin.
"A clear stand has to be taken. This is what we are founded on and it is important that we keep the foundations firm, whether it is new media or old media."
Anyone convicted of criminal defamation can be jailed up to two years, or fined, or both.
Anyone convicted of unauthorised access to computer material can be jailed up to two years, or fined up to $5,000, or both.