Wife to plead guilty, husband to claim trial in sedition case

Australian Takagi faces seven counts of sedition and an eighth charge over failing to produce financial statements on the website's advertising revenue to the police.
Australian Takagi faces seven counts of sedition and an eighth charge over failing to produce financial statements on the website's advertising revenue to the police. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Prosecutor says couple jointly ran The Real Singapore website, exploited racial faultlines for their self-interest

The trial of the husband-and-wife team accused of sedition, over articles on a now-defunct sociopolitical website, began with an unusual turn yesterday.

Australian Ai Takagi, 23, who is charged with seven counts of sedition for articles published by The Real Singapore (TRS), told the district court she would plead guilty.

But her Singaporean husband Yang Kaiheng, 27, is denying the charges and claiming trial.

The articles posted on TRS between October 2013 and February last year are alleged to have promoted ill will and hostility between different races or classes in Singapore.

The couple also face an eighth charge, for failing to produce financial statements on the website's advertising revenue to the police.

In his opening remarks yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan said the couple "maliciously exploit(ed) racial and xenophobic faultlines" and deliberately sowed discord between Singaporeans and foreigners from the Philippines, India and China "for nothing more than their self-interest".

The couple were "wildly successful in their efforts to profit from the ill-will and hostility that they were peddling", Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan said. Based on their bank statements, they earned between A$20,000 (S$20,400) and more than A$50,000 per month, he said.

Though the website purported to be the "voice of average Singaporeans", DPP Kannan said the reality was that it reflected the views of "Takagi, a foreigner who had never resided, studied or worked in Singapore, and Yang, a disgruntled Singaporean".

He said Takagi did the "outrageous" act of adopting the Malay name "Farhan" in one of the contentious articles to hide her identity as a foreigner while fostering xenophobia.

The couple, who married last October, were "wildly successful in their efforts to profit from the ill will and hostility that they were peddling", he added.

Based on their bank statements, they earned between A$20,000 (S$20,500) and more than A$50,000 a month, he said. The court was not told when these sums were earned.

To bring in more advertising revenue, the couple "quite plainly regarded accuracy, propriety and truthfulness as necessary casualties", he added.

DPP Kannan cited an article that falsely asserted a Filipino family had caused an incident between the police and participants of the Thaipusam procession last year.

He also said that TRS was jointly run by the couple, and that evidence will "show Yang's continued, sustained and intimate involvement in every aspect of the running of TRS".

But the couple's lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, said Yang was not the person behind TRS. "He will deny the distribution, the proprietorship and the writing of the articles in question," he said.

The maximum punishment under the Sedition Act is a $5,000 fine and three years' jail on each charge.

The TRS website was shut down by its editors last May, after the regulator, the Media Development Authority, suspended their licence to operate the site and ordered them to take it offline.

The prosecution is expected to call six witnesses during the trial, including five police officers, while the defence said both Takagi and Yang would testify.

Takagi will make her guilty plea in court today, while Yang's trial will proceed on Friday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2016, with the headline 'Wife to plead guilty, husband to claim trial in sedition case'. Print Edition | Subscribe