TRS co-founder Yang Kaiheng jailed 8 months for sedition

Yang Kaiheng pleaded guilty to six counts of sedition. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

SINGAPORE - Yang Kaiheng, the key person behind The Real Singapore website, was on Tuesday (June 28) sentenced to eight months' jail.

The 27-year-old Singaporean had on Friday (June 24) admitted to deliberately sowing discord between Singaporeans and foreigners through a series of articles on the socio-political website that he had started with his Australian-Japanese wife and a friend.

He pleaded guilty to six counts of sedition on Friday (June 24), after seven days of trial.

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Two more charges - one of sedition and another of failing to produce financial documents on the site's advertising revenue to the police - were taken into consideration during the sentencing.

District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt, in imposing the jail sentence, said Yang had exploited feelings of nationalism for financial gain.

Pointing to how Yang had pleaded guilty on Friday, after Britain's referendum when a majority of voters chose to leave the European Union, Judge Chay said "Brexit was a shocking but powerful display of nationalistic sentiments by the majority of the voters in the UK".

He warned that nationalism can degenerate quickly into xenophobia, racism and intolerance and violence adding: "At the heart of this case against the accused lies the exploitation of such feelings purely for financial gain and not for some noble ideology, misguided or otherwise."

Facts of the case presented by the prosecution on Friday showed that Yang had controlled the bulk of about A$550,000 in advertising revenue the website made from December 2012 to April last year.

He also had a hand in almost every aspect of the website's operations, from spearheading the development of mobile applications to deciding on which advertising platforms to work with. He also thought of new ways for the website to generate more revenue.

The bulk of the site's earnings went to paying for an apartment he bought jointly with his wife, Ai Takagi, as well as his tuition fees at the University of Queensland in Australia.

The couple were set to face a joint trial but Takagi, 23, had pleaded guilty from the start.

She was sentenced to 10 months in jail, and started serving her term in April.

On Yang's jail sentence of eight months, Judge Chay said it is less than Takagi's sentence, as she had authored the seditious articles.

However, he added, "the facts reveal that TRS was the brainchild of the accused and that he had full control of the website and its published content".

The prosecution had asked for a jail term of eight months for Yang, arguing that Yang was "not a mere passive participant and was actively involved in running TRS".

Deputy Public Prosecutor G Kannan said during sentencing submissions that Yang had "exercised zero oversight over the content published on TRS", even though he had administrative access to edit or remove articles from the site.

He also took issue with Yang's conduct in court and during the investigation.

Yang had denied his involvement in the daily management of the site, and had claimed trial. But in an about-turn, he told the court he would plead guilty last Wednesday, when the second part of his trial was due to begin.

DPP Kannan said Yang took the investigation and trial as a "catch me if you can game" where he had chosen to lie time and again until he was confronted.

In the first part of his trial, which lasted seven days and ended in April, Yang admitted to lying in court after the prosecution pointed out the inconsistencies in his testimony.

Yang had lied that he had started a Facebook page with Takagi to criticise Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling during the 2011 General Election in May. This was found to be untrue, as the duo had got to know each other only in September 2011.

He had also started TRS with Takagi and a friend, but told the court that he did not know about his friend's involvement in the website.

But Yang's lawyer Choo Zheng Xi had urged the court to impose a five month jail sentence, citing Yang's family circumstances as a mitigating factor.

Yang's father had suffered a stroke in March last year and is now completely paralysed and only able to blink at an alphabet chart, he said.

Yang will start serving his sentence on July 5, after the judge agreed to his request for time to settle the ramen business he now runs and to visit his wife in prison on July 4

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

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