TRS co-founder gets eight months' jail

Yang's sentence is less than the 10-month jail term given to his wife, Ai Takagi. The reason, said the judge, is that she had authored the seditious articles, while Yang did not amend or remove the seditious articles, although he had control of the w
Yang's sentence is less than the 10-month jail term given to his wife, Ai Takagi. The reason, said the judge, is that she had authored the seditious articles, while Yang did not amend or remove the seditious articles, although he had control of the website and its contents.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Yang exploited nationalistic sentiments for financial gain and not for ideology, says judge

The Brexit vote was highlighted yesterday when a judge sentenced the co-founder of socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS) to eight months in jail, for deliberately sowing discord between Singaporeans and foreigners in a series of online articles.

District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt said Yang Kaiheng, 27, had exploited nationalistic sentiments "purely for financial gain and not for some noble ideology, misguided or otherwise".

He noted that the published articles promoted ill-will and hostility against foreign nationalities residing or working in Singapore.

Then, turning to Britain voting to leave the European Union, the judge said: "Brexit was a shocking but powerful display of nationalistic sentiments."

Judge Chay, quoting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, added: "Nationalism has been described as a double-edged sword which can drive a nation to do better or cause its people to turn inwards."

EASY TO KEEP TRACK

TRS was no leviathan-size publishing empire, with scores of writers, teams of editors and a convoluted corporate hierarchy. It was a two-person show.

DEPUTY PUBLIC PROSECUTOR G. KANNAN, rebutting the point that Yang was unaware of what was being published on TRS.


NO INTENTION OF HAVING ANOTHER GO

Yang is the only child and the income he earns... goes largely to supporting his father's medical bills... the last thing on Yang's mind is to start another website like TRS.

DEFENCE LAWYER CHOO ZHENG XI, on Yang being unlikely to start a website similar to TRS.

The judge also said Brexit serves as a reminder of how strong and uncertain nationalistic emotions can be, and how they can "degenerate very rapidly into xenophobia, racism, intolerance and violence".

Immigration was a top issue during the Brexit campaign.

Judge Chay also agreed with the prosecution that the sentence should deter others from committing similar crimes as "there is an overriding public interest to protect the integrity of the multiracial and multicultural fabric of this country".

Yang had pleaded guilty last week to six charges of sedition.

But two other charges - one for uploading a seditious Facebook post and another of failing to give the police documents - were taken into consideration in sentencing.

Yang's sentence, however, is less than the 10-month jail term given in March to his wife, Ai Takagi, 23.

The reason, said Judge Chay, is that she had authored the seditious articles, while Yang did not amend or remove the seditious articles, although he had control of the website and its contents.

Takagi, an Australian who had started the now-defunct website with Yang, pleaded guilty to four charges of sedition from the start.

The judge said he also took into consideration Yang's family circumstances as a mitigating factor.

His father suffered a stroke last year in Australia, where he had gone to stay to look after the young couple's pet dog while they were under investigation in Singapore.

He is now paralysed, said Yang's lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi, who urged the court to impose a five-month jail term.

Mr Choo argued that Yang did not author, edit or upload any of the seditious articles onto TRS.

But Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan rebutted that Yang was involved in the development, operation and maintenance of TRS.

He also dismissed the claim that Yang was not aware of what was being published daily, saying TRS was a husband-and-wife operation run out of their home.

Judge Chay agreed. He also said Yang played an equal, if not a larger, role in some aspects.

Yang was instrumental in setting up TRS to make money and allowed his wife "to kick up a storm on the Internet with zero control to generate even more revenue'', the judge said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2016, with the headline 'TRS co-founder gets eight months' jail'. Print Edition | Subscribe