TRS founder ready to plead guilty

Yang Kaiheng outside the State Courts. He is on trial for seven charges under the Sedition Act for anti-foreigner posts published on The Real Singapore (TRS) website that aimed to “maliciously exploit racial and xenophobic faultlines”.
PHOTO: The New Paper

In a surprising turn of events, Yang Kaiheng, founder of socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS), indicated yesterday that he wished to plead guilty to the seven sedition charges he faces.

Yang, 27, had originally claimed trial, denying he had posted inflammatory articles on the TRS website and Facebook page between 2013 and 2015.

During the trial, which went on for seven days in March and April, Yang claimed his involvement in TRS was for only a month in 2012 after helping to set it up.

The trial was supposed to have resumed yesterday until his lawyer told the judge in chambers about his client's intention to plead guilty.

During the trial, Yang claimed that his wife, Ai Takagi, 23, an Australian national of Japanese descent, was responsible for the day-to-day business and editorial content of TRS.

Between December 2013 and April 2015, TRS raked in almost half a million dollars in advertising revenue, the court heard.

In April, Yang claimed that he and Takagi had been inspired to start TRS after their Facebook page, which petitioned for the removal of new Member of Parliament (MP) Tin Pei Ling after the 2011 General Election, garnered about 60,000 likes.

But during cross-examination, Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan asked how this was possible when the couple had not yet met during the 2011 GE period.

DPP Kannan said he had a log of very personal and embarrassing WhatsApp messages that proved they had met only after the petition Facebook page was created.

Yang's lawyer tried to interject, but Yang then conceded: "It's okay, Your Honour, I admit I am lying."

The next day, Yang again admitted to lying - this time for having falsely told the police he did not know that his friend, Mr Damien Koh, was involved in setting up TRS.

Yang had met Mr Koh, who later quit TRS, during their University of Queensland days.

Yang told the court: "I was being investigated for sedition during my interview. I didn't want to implicate my friend. I was sure he had nothing to do with sedition in the TRS site."

Yang turned up at the State Courts yesterday wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt and knee-length bermuda shorts.

He is expected to be back in court tomorrow.

If convicted of each charge under the Sedition Act, he faces up to three years' jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

Takagi pleaded guilty to sedition in March after also initially claiming trial and was jailed 10 months.

Now about five months pregnant,, she began serving her sentence on April 22.

HIS CHARGES

  • Yang Kaiheng is accused of seven counts of sedition:
  • An article falsely asserting that a Filipino family caused an incident between the police and participants at last year's Thaipusam procession.
  • A similar Facebook post.
  • An article alleging that a Filipino employee bribed a colleague to delete traces of his misdeeds to ensure that only his countrymen were hired by the company.
  • An article portraying women from China as home-wreckers whose main motive was "trying to hook" Singaporean men.
  • An article that had an editor's note warning companies about hiring foreigners over Singaporeans.
  • An article claiming that Filipino managers working here would give preferential treatment to subordinates of the same nationality at the expense of Singaporeans.
  • Copied an article from Stomp about an elderly woman who told her grandson to urinate into a bottle on an MRT train, then doctored the article to say she was a Chinese national who allegedly had an accent and posted it on TRS.
  • An eighth charge of failing to produce documents to the police for investigations has been stood down.

TIMELINE OF CASE

2012

The Real Singapore (TRS) is set up.

February 2015

TRS publishes an article on Feb 4 alleging that a Filipino family's complaint over noise from drummers led to a scuffle during the Thaipusam procession on Feb 3. The police receive reports about an "insensitive article" online the next day. The authorities arrest Yang Kaiheng and Ai Takagi in Singapore that month.

April 2015

Yang and Takagi are charged with sedition and failing to produce documents to the police.

May 2015

The Media Development Authority suspends TRS' operating licence and orders that it be taken down.

August 2015

Yang and Takagi open two ramen stalls in two National University of Singapore foodcourts.

October 2015

They get married.

January 2016

They open a third ramen stall at a coffee shop in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8.

March 2016

Yang claims trial while his wife pleads guilty. Takagi is sentenced to 10 months' jail.

April 2016

During Yang's trial, he admits to lying on two different occasions before the trial is adjourned to June. Takagi begins her sentence on April 22.

June 2016

Yang indicates he wishes to plead guilty.


This article was first published on June 23, 2016.
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