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TOC editor Terry Xu and contributor jailed for defaming Cabinet members

TOC editor Terry Xu and contributor jailed for defaming Cabinet members
Terry Xu (left) and TOC contributor Daniel De Costa Augustin were each sentenced to three weeks' jail.
PHOTO: The Straits Times/Kelvin Chng

SINGAPORE - The Online Citizen (TOC) editor Xu Yuanchen, 39, better known as Terry Xu, and a contributor to the sociopolitical site, Daniel De Costa Augustin, 38, were each sentenced to three weeks' jail on Thursday (April 21) for defaming cabinet members.

De Costa was also sentenced to three months' jail for an offence under the Computer Misuse Act. He will serve his sentences consecutively.

This means De Costa will spend a total of three months and three weeks behind bars.

In November last year, District Judge Ng Peng Hong convicted the pair following a trial.

De Costa had penned a letter that defamed Cabinet members and sent it from an e-mail account of his friend, Mr Sim Wee Lee.

The letter was titled PAP MP apologises to SDP and sent to TOC from Mr Sim's Yahoo account in September 2018.

The court heard that the letter stated, among other things, that there was "corruption at the highest echelons" of the People's Action Party leadership.

TOC then published the letter with the title "The Take Away From Seah Kian Ping's (sic) Facebook Post" and attributed it to Willy Sum, a name sometimes used by Mr Sim.

Xu was represented by lawyers Remy Choo and Priscilla Chia.

During the trial, Xu had argued that the phrase "corruption at the highest echelons" did not refer to individual members of the Cabinet and that he did not know the phrase harmed their reputation.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir, Senthilkumaran Sabapathy and Sheryl Yeo, however, said in their submissions that the article alleged, among other things, that there was "corruption at the highest echelons" of the Singapore Government.

They added: "A contextual interpretation of the article makes it plain that this was an imputation relating to the members of the Cabinet of Singapore. The imputation was serious, baseless and clearly defamatory.

"Both De Costa and Xu would have known that the imputation of corruption would harm the reputation of the Cabinet. Neither of them had any cogent basis to make the allegation and it is clear that they had not acted in good faith."


Mr Sim testified in court in 2020 that he had shared the passwords of his Yahoo and Gmail accounts with De Costa after they became friends some time between 2005 and 2006.

He did so as he needed De Costa's help to compose and send e-mail letters on his behalf to various government officials, Mr Sim told the court through a Mandarin interpreter.

Mr Sim had earlier said: "I was very grateful to Daniel because, at the time, I was facing bankruptcy proceedings and also had problems with the HDB and traffic summonses issued against me."

De Costa's defence was that Mr Sim had given him access to the Yahoo Account "for all purposes".

The DPPs said that this implausible claim was based almost exclusively on De Costa's own testimony.

They added that evidence, including Mr Sim's consistent and candid testimony, had proved beyond reasonable doubt that De Costa had only limited authority to use the Yahoo account to send out e-mails on Mr Sim's behalf and in relation to personal matters.

The prosecutors told the court: "De Costa clearly did not have any authority to use the Yahoo account to send out e-mails of the kind represented by the article, let alone blanket authority to use it for 'all purposes'."

TOC and its various social media channels were taken offline in September last year ahead of a deadline set by the Infocomm and Media Development Authority (IMDA).

This development came after IMDA had earlier suspended TOC's class licence to run its website and social media channels due to its repeated failure to comply with legal obligations to declare all sources of funding.

Lawyer Chung Ting Fai represented De Costa. He was formerly represented by activist lawyer M. Ravi.

For defamation, an offender can be jailed for up to two years and fined.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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