TOC editor one of two men to be charged with criminal defamation

Mr Terry Xu Yuan Chen allegedly published an article involving comments made by MP Seah Kian Peng and alleging corruption by top government officials without verifying the identity of the author.
Mr Terry Xu Yuan Chen allegedly published an article involving comments made by MP Seah Kian Peng and alleging corruption by top government officials without verifying the identity of the author.ST FILE PHOTO

The Online Citizen's (TOC) editor Terry Xu Yuan Chen is expected to be charged with criminal defamation today after his site posted an article in September involving comments made by MP Seah Kian Peng and alleging corruption by top government officials.

The man who allegedly wrote the article under the pseudonym "Willy Sum" and sent it to the sociopolitical website through someone else's e-mail account is also expected to be charged.

Mr Daniel Augustin De Costa, 35, faces an additional charge of unauthorised access under the Computer Misuse Act, for logging in to the e-mail account without the individual's consent.

It was only after the police had searched the individual's home and were convinced that the article was not written by that person that they applied for a warrant to search Mr De Costa's house, managing to reach him just before he left to board a flight.

Mr De Costa had allegedly written the article titled "The take away from Seah Kian Ping's (sic) Facebook post" in response to comments that Mr Seah had made on Facebook about a meeting between several Singaporean activists and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Putrajaya in August.

Mr Xu, 36, then allegedly published the article on the website without verifying the identity of the author, according to the police.

He will be charged with criminal defamation for publishing the article, which referenced the meeting between Tun Dr Mahathir and historian Thum Ping Tjin, freelance journalist Kirsten Han, comic artist Sonny Liew and activist Jolovan Wham.

The police had earlier said that the article made serious allegations that "the Government's highest officers are corrupt".

The Infocomm Media Development Authority lodged a police report on Oct 5 about the article. The police consulted the Attorney-General's Chambers and were given sanction to investigate.

 
 
 

In a statement, the police responded to two allegations that were made against their actions in this case. The first was about how they had supposedly "over-reached" by seizing the electronic equipment of those involved.

"As part of investigations, the police had seized electronic equipment including laptops, mobile phones and hard drives from Xu and De Costa. This was necessary to secure and preserve evidence," the police statement said.

It added that the seizure of the electronic equipment uncovered evidence pointing to the identity of the true author of the article, in this case, Mr De Costa.

Second, a post supposedly written by Mr De Costa's mother said the police had "unreasonably prevented" him from leaving Singapore for an overseas trip.

Said the police statement: "The police had to act quickly as we had obtained information which suggested that De Costa was the true author of the offending article."

Anyone convicted of criminal defamation can be punished with up to two years' jail, a fine, or both. Anyone convicted of unauthorised access to computer material faces up to two years in prison, a fine not more than $5,000, or both.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2018, with the headline 'TOC editor one of two men to be charged with criminal defamation'. Print Edition | Subscribe