27-year-old Yang Kaiheng is a Singaporean blogger who ran a website called “The Real Singapore,” an apparently popular site that was racking up 13 million views a month and generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue, according to the BBC.
Unfortunately for Yang, prosecutors successfully charged him with “provoking hatred against foreigners in Singapore” and milking that hatred for profit, so he was sentenced to eight months in jail.
The BBC reports that Yang specifically pleaded guilty to “sedition and sowing discord between locals and foreigners.”
Judge Chay Yuen Fatt declared that Yang’s website “ran controversial content purely to generate advertising revenue,” a criminal standard that would pretty much wipe out the Internet if it should ever be exported beyond Singapore’s borders.
The judge proceeded to use Britain’s vote to leave the European Union as an example of “nationalist sentiment” run amok, and said that “at the heart of this case against the accused lies the exploitation of such feelings purely for financial gain and not for some noble ideology, misguided or otherwise.”
Examples of Yang’s predatory nationalism cited in the BBC article include an article that “falsely reported that a Chinese boy had urinated in a bottle on the metro,” and another that “accused a Filipino family of starting scuffles at a Hindu festival in 2015.”
Yang’s 23-year-old wife Ai Takagi was already sentenced to 10 months in prison for editing the Real Singapore website and posting under a false male identity. She is actually said to be the author of most of the articles that angered the Singaporean court, but Yang was held responsible as owner and publisher of the website.
“Yang distanced himself from the website’s content during much of the trial, saying he was not involved in editing or approving it, before abruptly pleading guilty to six counts of sedition on Friday,” the Asian Correspondent reports.
“The accused was made aware that some of the articles published were defamatory but he refused to remove them. He was made aware of the articles in question but did not remove the articles until months later,” said Judge Chay, according to Malay Online’s account of the trial.
“He was also uncooperative in investigations. In some aspects, it might even be said he played an equal or even a larger role (than his wife),” the judge added.
Another possible reason for the harsh prosecution of the Real Singapore couple is alluded to by the Asian Correspondent, which notes the site was “a hotbed for anti-government views.” Defenders of the site have criticized the prosecution as “an attempt to stifle free speech and suppress political dissent.”
One of the prosecutors quoted by Malay Online excoriated Yang for having an “irresponsible, wholly reckless, and no censorship” editorial policy for his website, essentially saying he committed a criminal offense for failing to delete the content.
Even though Yang has reportedly been “scarred by the experience” and is no longer interested in “socio-political discourse,” as his lawyer put it, the prosecution worried that he might slip out from beneath Singapore’s thumb and start committing thoughtcrimes again.
Noting that Ai Takagi is Australian, and Yang met her while studying there, prosecutor G Kannan fumed, “There’s a real risk of him returning to Australia, where he can reoffend at will.”
Indeed, a March article at Singapore’s New Paper cited Skype chat logs secured by the prosecution, in which Yang discussed his “plans to start a citizen journalism website in Australia.”
In those chat messages, Yang told his potential partner in the Australian venture, “it is an ugly culture, but can make money.” He proudly described himself as a “professional s**t-stirrer.”