SINGAPORE - Ai Takagi, the editor of The Real Singapore (TRS) website, was sentenced to 10 months’ jail on Wednesday (March 23) on four charges of publishing seditious articles which had the tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of the population of Singapore.
Before she was sentenced, the 23-year-old, who is eight weeks pregnant, apologised to the people of Singapore for the harm she had caused by posting content to her website.
Takagi, an Australian of Japanese descent, said she was not fully aware of the level of sensitivity needed when dealing with topics related to racial and religious issues here.
“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.
She added that she would definitely be more careful with her online postings in future.
She pleaded guilty two weeks ago while her Singaporean husband, Yang Kaiheng, 27, claimed trial to seven charges of sedition and one of not producing documents pertaining to TRS finances to a public servant when he was legally bound to.
TRS’ aim was to be a platform where Singaporeans could express their thoughts and voice their complaints in their day-to-day lives freely, anonymously, without restraint or censorship.
Takagi, who had been living in Brisbane, Australia, where she was a student at the University of Queensland, was responsible for the TRS website as a “writer’’, as well as searching the Internet for interesting content to publish. She would also choose material from “contributors’’ for publications – either with or without editing the contributions.
She and Yang were arrested in February last year after an online police report about TRS website for inciting hatred against the Filipino community in Singapore.
The court had heard that Takagi was motivated by financial gain. Over nearly 1½ years between December 2013 and April last year, shortly before the TRS website and TRS Facebook page were shut down, the site raked in almost half a million dollars in advertising revenue.
Seeking a total sentence of at least 12 months’ jail, Deputy Public Prosecutors G. Kannan argued on Wednesday (March 23) that this was the most serious case of sedition prosecuted so far.
“Compared to the previous cases where the extent of publication was minuscule, dissemination in this case was very extensive,’’ he said.
Unlike previous cases which were directed towards one class of the populace in Singapore, Takagi’s “blunderbuss approach'' targeted multiple classes of the population.
He cited numerous aggravating factors such as the fact that the seditious material containing blatant falsehoods was published.
He said the articles in the proceeded charges were designed to provoke hatred against foreigners in Singapore; engendered vitriol and hatred from readers.
District Judge Salina Ishak said in her brief sentencing remarks that she took into account the nature and extent of seditious tendency, financial gain of the publications of the seditious articles, manner and extent of distribution to public domain, concealment of identity, and level of blame.
Takagi’s lawyer Choo Zheng Xi successfully applied for his client to start sentence on April 22 so that she can help in making arrangements for the care of the ramen stall run by her husband, and for Yang’s paralysed father.
Yang’s trial resumes on Monday (March 28).
The maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine and three years’ jail on each charge.