They earned big bucks – up to more than A$50,000 (S$51,250) – each month.
And they did it by allegedly using the now-defunct socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS) to exploit racist and xenophobic fault lines through their articles, some of which were allegedly fabricated.
This attracted Internet users to their website and allowed them to cash in on advertising revenue.
Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan said in his opening statement that Yang Kaiheng, 27, and his wife, Ai Takagi, 23, were calculating and unscrupulous business owners who were motivated by commercial greed.
“(They) assessed that running a website that was nothing more than a cauldron of hostility and ill-will, and occasionally adding lies to the mix, would enable them to make substantial personal gains,” he said.
Yang and Takagi are each facing seven charges of sedition and one count of failing to produce documents to the authorities for investigations.
A publication is considered seditious if it has the tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of people here.
Yang claimed trial to the charges.
Takagi, however, indicated she would plead guilty and her case has been rescheduled for today.
DPP Kannan said TRS, which was shut down by the authorities in May last year, touted itself as a news portal that provided a platform for the voices of average Singaporeans.
In reality, the only voices on the website belonged to Takagi, an Australian national who had never resided, studied or worked here, and her husband, a disgruntled Singaporean who saw TRS as a means for financial gain, he said.
The prosecution’s case is that Yang and Takagi jointly ran TRS and had control of everything on the website.
Takagi is accused of having day-to-day control over content on TRS, including generating content, as well as editing and selecting those submitted by contributors.
Yang is said to have admitted to the authorities to being a writer and editor for TRS, and DPP Kannan said the prosecution will show he was inextricably involved.
Yang, however, had claimed his involvement with TRS was only for a month in 2012.
DPP Kannan said the prosecution will show that contributions from Singaporeans were doctored to sensationalise fault lines and create social divides.
The couple also resorted to outright and blatant fabrication in order to drive traffic to their website, DPP Kannan said.
One example was Takagi allegedly adopting a fictitious name, Farhan, to post an article that stated TRS’ objective was to instil fear in companies and make them think twice about hiring foreigners without considering the local workforce, he said.
“There was no concern about the credibility of the articles published,” DPP Kannan said.
“They were keenly motivated by the advertising revenue they were collecting and sought to have a high volume of Internet traffic flowing to the TRS website and the TRS Facebook page.”
And they were actually “wildly successful in their efforts to profit from the ill-will and hostility they were peddling”, he said.
DPP Kannan pointed out that their bank accounts showed they earned A$20,000 to more than A$50,000 per month.
The couple had allegedly refused to submit their bank statements and TRS’ statements of accounts to the police.
The TRS website generated revenue through advertising using Google’s AdSense platform, while its mobile apps used Google’s AdMob platform.
The investigation officer obtained the documents only two months after the deadline, DPP Kannan added.
“These documents establish money as being the vulgar motive which underlay the commission of the sedition offences, and showed that the accused persons profited handsomely from their conduct,” said DPP Kannan.
Yang’s case will continue on Friday.
The 8 charges
Yang Kaiheng and Ai Takagi allegedly published an article on The Real Singapore (TRS) website and put up a Facebook post that falsely claimed that a Filipino family caused an altercation between the police and participants of the February 2015 Thaipusam procession.
These made up the first and second charges.
Said Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan: “In portraying a Filipino family as the genesis of unrest during a sacred procession, the article and Facebook post promote ill-will and hostility by angering the Indian community against the Filipinos in Singapore who had supposedly interfered with a holy celebration.”
For the third charge, the duo allegedly published an article on the TRS website stating why Singaporeans felt annoyed with Filipinos in Singapore.
Said DPP Kannan: “Read objectively, it portrays Singaporeans as being in a desperate fight for survival against Filipinos in Singapore.
“The comments about Filipinos in the article, which are not based on any facts, and the highly emotive language therein are calculated to inflame both Singaporeans and Filipinos in Singapore.”
Pitting Filipino and Indian nationals against Singaporeans
The accused allegedly published an article claiming a Filipino employee working in a company here had bribed a colleague, an Indian national, to delete traces of the Filipino’s misdeeds so that only Filipinos were hired by the company.
Said DPP Kannan of the fourth charge: “It directly pits Filipinos and Indian nationals against Singaporeans. The article portrays Singaporeans as being improperly sidelined through illegal tactics by the Filipinos and Indian nationals.”
Portraying women from China as homewreckers
The duo are accused of publishing an article that casts female Chinese nationals as homewreckers in the fifth charge.
Said DPP Kannan: “Read objectively and in its appropriate context, this article has a tendency to promote ill-will between Singaporeans in general and PRC nationals living in Singapore.”
Doctoring Stomp article to portray women from China as uncivilised
On Feb 18, 2014, citizen journalism website Stomp posted an article about a woman who pulled down her grandson’s pants and instructed him to urinate into a bottle while on an MRT train.
The accused allegedly copied the article, doctored it to include that the woman was a Chinese national and posted it on the TRS website.
Said DPP Kannan of the sixth charge: “This article casts people from the PRC as being uncivilised… The thrust of the article is that the presence of people from the PRC may lead to Singapore becoming more uncivilised.”
Article to ‘instil fear’
The accused allegedly published an article with an editor’s note, allegedly written by Takagi, who used the fictitious name “Farhan”.
In the note, Takagi allegedly said that TRS’ objective was to instil fear in companies and make them think twice about hiring foreigners.
Said DPP Kannan of the seventh charge: “In this provocative statement of intent, Takagi unequivocally professes that TRS’ agenda is to ‘instil fear’ in companies that hire foreigners.
“The article fosters xenophobia by asserting that average Singaporeans are unable to secure decent jobs because of foreigners.”
Failure to submit financial documents
Yang and Takagi are accused of refusing to produce statements of accounts and bank statements to the police in the eighth charge.
Said DPP Kannan: “These documents establish money as being the vulgar motive which underlay the commission of the sedition offences, and showed that the accused persons profited handsomely from their conduct.”
HE CLAIMS HE DID WORK AS A FAVOUR
Yang Kaiheng, who was allegedly involved with The Real Singapore (TRS) and charged with sedition, claimed he did everything as a favour to his wife, Ai Takagi, the court heard.
The duo got married last October.
Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan said in his opening statement that Yang, 27, also claimed his involvement with TRS lasted only a month in 2012.
After that, Yang claimed his involvement was fleeting and ad hoc, he added.
DPP Kannan said the prosecution will lead evidence to show Yang’s continued, sustained and intimate involvement in running every aspect of TRS.
Defence counsel Remy Choo said in a statement to the press that his client will be claiming trial to clear his name.
He said: “This was also not an easy decision for Mr Yang to make: He wants nothing more than for his nightmare to end.
“Since Mr Yang was arrested, tragedy has befallen his family. His father lies paralysed and suffers from locked-in syndrome.”
Yang studied environmental science at the University of Queensland in Australia.
He left for his studies immediately after his operationally ready date in February 2010.
Takagi, 23, studied law at the same university.
The duo were arrested sometime in early February last year, reported The New Paper on Feb 18 last year.
They were charged in April.
In August, they opened two ramen stalls, named Takagi Ramen Shop, in two National University of Singapore foodcourts.
This article was first published on March 8, 2016.
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