Judge mentions Brexit while giving TRS’ Yang Kaiheng 8-month jail sentence
Brexit can be linked to everything.
So the case involving the founders of prominent socio-political site The Real Singapore has come to an end, with co-founder Yang Kaiheng being sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment for six charges of sedition.
This makes his case “the most serious case of sedition” in Singapore to date, according to prosecutors, as Yang was convicted of six charges — two more than his wife Ai Takagi, who received 10 months’ jail after immediately pleading guilty to four charges, with the other four being taken into consideration.
Yang, 27, will start serving his prison sentence on the morning of Tuesday, July 5, after settling affairs regarding his Takagi Ramen Shop business and arranging for the full-time care of his paralysed father. He will also be going to see Takagi herself in jail one day prior.
Now, none of us can deny that interest in this case has largely fizzled, but it could well be this situation that triggered District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt’s masterstroke of weaving in Brexit into his comments in sentencing Yang:
“(Yang) pleaded guilty last Friday which also coincided with the day of Brexit (local time). Brexit was a shocking but powerful display of nationalistic sentiments by the majority of the voters in the UK. Nationalism has been described as a double-edged sword which can drive a nation to do better or cause its people to turn inwards. To put it bluntly, nationalism can degenerate very rapidly into xenophobia, racism, intolerance and violence.
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. The world is still reeling from the last week’s shocking result and continues to grapple with the new reality.”
And here’s how he swoops in and relates this to the case:
“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). The accused was the proprietor and distributor of TRS, a socio-political website. In that capacity, he published articles which promoted ill-will and hostility against various foreign nationalities residing or working in Singapore…
He could have amended the articles, cause them to be amended or have them removed entirely but he did not do so. Instead, he permitted and allowed the articles to be published which festered and propagated xenophobic and racist feelings amongst the readers of the articles. These negative feelings are evident from the numerous online posts by readers in response to those articles.
… (Yang) was made aware that some of the articles published by TRS were offensive and defamatory but he refused to remove them. The facts state that “[h]e knew that the content being published on TRS was stirring up anger and resentment in Singapore.” He was certainly made aware of the articles in question at the very least when investigations against him commenced but he did not remove the articles until months later…
In deciding on the appropriate sentence, I agree with the prosecution that the principle of deterrence, both general and specific, is paramount. There is an overriding public interest to protect the integrity of the multi-racial and multi-cultural fabric of this country.”
Prosecutors: Yang’s defence built on ‘lies, lies and more lies’
Prosecutors pushed for eight months as well, noting that the publication of the offending articles “flowed from the editorial strategy that (Yang) conceived, authorised and consented to”, which Takagi then executed.
Deputy Public Prosecutor G Kannan had harsh words for Yang’s defence, summarising it at one point as “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil”.
Noting also that Yang had to at one point in his seven-day trial admit outright that he was lying on the stand, Kannan hit out at his conduct, saying he showed a complete lack of remorse for his actions, “evident in the contemptible manner” he behaved in the course of investigation and trial.
Kannan said Yang took a “catch me if you can” approach to being cross-examined, for instance, only admitting to the truth when he was shown outright proof contrary to what he claimed on the stand.
In mitigation, Yang’s defence counsel Choo Zheng Xi said Yang had no day-to-day role in editing the content of the site, and that he did not have “daily oversight” of its content, adding that his level of knowledge of the content on TRS was that which “most casual readers had”.
In response to Kannan’s argument that Yang can easily relocate to Australia and start up a reincarnation of TRS, Choo said that is the “last thing on (his) mind”, with his focus on his ramen business and with his father, who suffered a stroke last year, bedridden with paralysis — only being able to blink at an alphabetic chart.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old Takagi, whom we learned was pregnant in April, is just about two months into her 10-month jail sentence, and will likely emerge in November, pending good behaviour.
Top image by Jeanette Tan