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Singaporean website owner jailed for anti-foreigner content

June 28, 2016

A Singaporean man behind a defunct website that published made-up articles stirring hatred against foreigners in the city-state was jailed for eight months Tuesday for sedition.

State prosecutors had pushed for a strong deterrent sentence on Yang Kaiheng, owner of The Real Singapore (TRS) website, saying the articles on which the charges were based were “designed to provoke hatred against foreigners in Singapore”.

Yang, 27, had earlier claimed trial but later pleaded guilty to six charges of sowing discord between locals and foreigners in a series of articles, three of which state prosecutors said contained “blatant falsehoods designed to insert prominent xenophobic” references.

One article falsely said that a Filipino family instigated a fracas at a Hindu festival in 2015. Another fabricated article alleged that a Chinese woman made her grandson urinate into a bottle inside a metro train.

The articles were mostly designed to inflame hatred against Filipino, mainland Chinese and Indian nationals working in labour-starved Singapore, the prosecutors said.

Prosecutors described Yang as a “calculating opportunist, who realised that by generating a groundswell of resentment towards foreigners, he could attract readers to the TRS website and thereby generate vast sums of advertising revenue”.

Yang’s Australian wife, Ai Takagi, who wrote or edited the articles, was sentenced in March to 10 months in jail also for sedition.

The popular website, which earned the duo hundreds of thousands in advertising revenue, was shut down after Takagi and Yang were arrested while visiting the island last year. Both were based in Australia.

Takagi’s sentence is the stiffest so far ever imposed for sedition in the strict city-state, which clamps down hard on any activity seen as promoting racial and class hatred.

State prosecutors described Yang as the “proprietor” and “distributor” of TRS and said a tough sentence on him “must reflect the fact that this is the most serious case of sedition to date in Singapore”.

District court Judge Chay Yuen Fatt noted that Yang had pleaded guilty on Friday, the day results showed that Britain had voted to bolt out of the European Union.

“To put it bluntly, nationalism can degenerate very rapidly into xenophobia, racism, intolerance and violence,” the judge said.

“Brexit is an example and a reminder of how strong, uncertain and unpredictable these emotions can be and the ramifications that these feelings can and have caused.”

Sedition laws in Singapore make it an offence to promote hostility between different races or classes in the multiracial society, which is mainly ethnic Chinese with large Malay and Indian minorities.

Critics, however, say sedition laws, dating back to British colonial rule, can be used to restrict free speech.

About 40 per cent of the city-state’s 5.5 million people are foreigners, many of them from China, India and the Philippines.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.