Former editor of website The Real Singapore (TRS) Ai Takagi, 23, was sentenced to a 10-month jail term on four charges of sedition over the publication of articles promoting racial hatred. She pleaded guilty to four of seven counts of sedition charges.
The content posted on now defunct TRS, which was shut down in May last year, has been cited as promoting hatred and hostility between the different races and classes in Singapore. TRS said that it allowed users to post their opinions and complaints anonymously with no censorship. Takagi herself wrote content for TRS and published articles selected by her written by various contributors. The articles that brought her and husband, co-owner of TRS Yang Kaiheng, 27, under fire were published on the website between October 2013 and February 2015.
Prosecutors said Takagi fabricated numerous false stories for publication on TRS in order to increase viewership and generate profit from advertising revenue. Between December 2013 and April 2015, it was reported that the website generated close to half a million dollars from advertising. The site has been massively popular during its run, clocking in 134 million page views between May 2014 to March last year.
In February last year, on online police report was lodged against TRS due to a post inciting hatred against the Filipino community in Singapore, which was about a Filipino family that had allegedly created a commotion during the Thaipusam festival. It was later proven that there was no such family as claimed by the article published by TRS.
Takagi’s lawyer Choo Zheng Xi successfully enabled Takagi to begin her 10-month jail term on 22 April, citing her need to make arrangements regarding the management of her husband’s ramen stall as well as the need to attend to Yang’s paralysed father. Choo also deemed his client’s sentence as unnecessary to ensure that she does not re-offend in the future, due to her young age at the time of the offence as well as the change in her personal situation, making any future offences committed by her “highly unlikely”. Takagi is currently eight weeks pregnant, and she will likely to give birth to her child in prison while serving the sentence.
Takagi, an Australian of Japanese descent, read out her apology in court, addressing and apologising to the people of Singapore for the hurt caused by her website. “I was not fully aware of the level of sensitivity needed when dealing with topics related to racial and religious issues in Singapore. I did not fully appreciate the gravity and sensitivity required when approaching such subjects,” she said, adding that she will carefully consider any online postings made in teh future.
Deputy Public Prosecutors G. Kannan stated that this was the most serious case of sedition prosecuted so far, due to TRS’ content which targetted multiple classes of Singaporeans in its malicious content.
In response to the sentencing of Takagi, a spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia said: "We regret that Takagi was given a custodial sentence, given that she is young, pregnant and had issued an apology.
"The Australian High Commission in Singapore will continue to provide her with all appropriate consular assistance, in line with the Consular Services Charter, in monitoring her welfare.” said the spokesperson.
International non-profit media watchdog Reporters Without Borders responded to the case as well, calling Takagi’s 10-month jail sentence disproportionate. “Except for clear cut cases of call for hatred, media offences should be dealt by a Civil court. This is why the sedition law should be abrogated by the government. Especially when the latter is known for having used it for political purposes, in order to muzzle dissent voices,” said a RSF spokesperson.