TRS trial: Website inspired by success of Facebook page criticising PAP MP Tin Pei Ling, says co-founder

Yang Kaiheng arriving at the State Courts on April 6, 2016.
Yang Kaiheng arriving at the State Courts on April 6, 2016.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - Socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS) did not come about "naturally" but was inspired by the success of a Facebook page that criticised a People's Action Party Member of Parliament, its co-founder said in court on Wednesday (April 6).

The Facebook page, "Petition to remove Tin Pei Ling as a MP", was created by TRS co-founders Yang Kaiheng, 27, and his wife Ai Takagi, after the 2011 General Election.

Ms Tin, the MP for MacPherson, was then an MP for Marine Parade GRC. At the height of its popularity, the page had 60,000 likes.

Given its large following, such a page was a "useful venue to eventually have a business venture", Yang said when he took the stand at the start of his defence on Wednesday.

The couple then went on to create the TRS Facebook page.

"I created the idea with my wife... We thought a website without censorship and more freedom of speech (would be) a good business venture for us," he said.

Yang faces seven counts of sedition for allegedly using TRS to "maliciously exploit racial and xenophobic faultlines".  Takagi had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 months' jail in late March, but Yang claimed trial.

 
 

The court also heard that Yang designed the website and its logo, and researched the various means of getting advertising revenue.

But his involvement was only for "one to two months" after the TRS Facebook page went live in June 2012, he said.

It was Takagi who ran the website, including publishing content, contacting a team of editors to help her run the site, and meeting advertising representatives from Google, he added.

Any help he provided after that was "ad hoc", such as suggesting to Takagi that a mobile app be developed for TRS.

He also denied writing any articles, as he was busy with schoolwork and running  the gaming club that he founded while at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Yang was questioned on the stand by his lawyer Choo Zheng Xi for only 20 minutes before the hearing was adjourned to let him spend time with his pregnant wife, who had a medical emergency on Tuesday.

Earlier on Wednesday, the prosecution wrapped up its case against Yang.

Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan said in his submissions to the court that based on the evidence submitted so far, the defence had a case to answer.

Evidence in the form of chat logs showed Yang's "continued and sustained involvement" in TRS in 2012, 2013 and 2014, he said.

"The evidence of ownership from May 2014 onwards is even stronger as he was a 50 per cent shareholder and one of two directors of Ryukun, the entity to which significant advertising revenue from TRS was paid to," he added.

The court had heard earlier during the trial that TRS raked in almost half a million dollars in advertising revenue from December 2013 to April 2015.

The trial continues.