The chief editor of socio-political website The Real Singapore was sentenced to 10 months in jail yesterday after a judge said the articles it published were intended to "provoke unwarranted hatred against foreigners in Singapore".
Before she was sentenced, 23- year-old Ai Takagi, who is eight weeks pregnant, apologised in open court to the people of Singapore for the harm the published articles had caused.
Admitting she was not fully aware of the level of sensitivity needed when dealing with racial and religious issues here, the Australian of Japanese descent claimed that she "loves" Singapore and hopes to call it her home permanently. "I now know that the harmony which Singapore enjoys today requires careful and continuous efforts on the part of everyone, citizens and visitors alike, to maintain,'' she said.
Takagi pleaded guilty to four of eight charges two weeks ago, relating to the publication of four seditious articles.
One - entitled "Why Some Singaporeans Feel Annoyed With Pinoys In Singapore" and published in June 2014 - quoted a Singaporean who allegedly quit his job claiming Filipinos in his company gave preferential treatment to their countrymen. It described them as "two-faced" and "relentless back-stabbers".
Takagi published another article on the website, and in a Facebook post, that falsely claimed a Filipino family caused an altercation between police and participants of last year's Thaipusam procession .
Her Singaporean husband Yang Kaiheng, 27 - who allegedly helped run the site - has claimed trial.
TRS was set up in 2012 supposedly to let Singaporeans express their views without fear, according to Takagi. Then studying law in Australia, she was responsible for the website as a "writer", and searching for interesting content online. She would also publish material from "contributors" - with or without editing it.
The couple were arrested in February last year after an online police report was made about the website for inciting hatred against the Filipino community here. The authorities shut down the site last May.
Pressing for 14 months' jail to be imposed yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan submitted that it was the "most serious" case of sedition prosecuted, that Takagi was "devoid of genuine remorse" and that her offences resulted in widespread public disquiet.
"Her brand of sedition is best described as slow-burning type sedition which is more insidious than in-your-face racial invective," he said, adding that Takagi was motivated by commercial greed. From December 2013 to April last year, the site made more than A$470,000 (S$488,000) from ad revenue.
"TRS was not an electronic version of her soapbox to spread the word. It was a revenue-generating business,'' he added.
District Judge Salina Ishak said: "It was clear from the language used in the articles in the proceeded charges as well as allegations levelled against foreigners that the articles were intended from the outset to provoke unwarranted hatred against foreigners in Singapore."
She called Takagi "a shrewd businesswoman who was driven by financial gains".
In mitigation, defence lawyer Choo Zheng Xi highlighted Takagi's youth and minimal risk of re-offending. He added that she cares for her husband's paralysed father and will soon be a mother. Pregnant inmates are seen regularly by the prison medical officer and specialists from KK Women's and Children's Hospital, where they are taken to give birth.
Takagi, whose sentence was deferred till April 22, could have been fined up to $5,000 and/or jailed for up to three years on each charge.