SINGAPORE – A Singapore court has sentenced an Australian woman to 10 months in jail after finding her guilty of provoking hatred of foreigners in the city-state by posting fictitious accounts of obnoxious visitors on her website.
Law student Ai Takagi's sentence is the harshest ever imposed under the Sedition Act, used to deter inhabitants from promoting hostility in the multicultural nation. Before her sentencing Wednesday, she had pleaded guilty to four counts of sedition and apologized to Singapore's people.
A representative of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade expressed regret Thursday over the sentence and said Takagi, an Australian of Japanese descent who is eight weeks' pregnant, will continue to receive consular assistance, Channel NewsAsia reported.
Takagi was the editor of "The Real Singapore" website while living in Australia. She and her Singaporean husband were arrested on a visit to Singapore last year and the website was shut down.
The court said she used a false male identity to post fictitious stories about foreigners being a nuisance in Singapore, often targeting Filipinos, Chinese and Indians, for financial gain.
The website had close to 13 million views a month and its readership reacted with anger, with some calling for harsh curbs on foreigners, court documents said.
District Judge Salina Ishak said the articles "intended from the outset to provoke unwarranted hatred against foreigners in Singapore."
"By generally exploiting the foreigner-local divide, without targeting any specific racial or religious group, the accused . was able to peddle xenophobia to readers generally," the judge said.
The website generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue, the court heard. From December 2013 to April 2015, it reportedly had revenue of close to 474,600 Australian dollars ($356,479).
Takagi's husband, Yang Kaiheng, 27, faces similar charges but pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately.
This is not the first time the Sedition Act has been used against foreigners. Last September, a Filipino nurse working in Singapore was given a four-month sentence for describing Singaporeans as losers on Facebook, and subsequently providing false information to police investigators.
Each charge of inciting feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of Singapore's population can be punished by up to three years in jail and a fine of 5,000 Singapore dollars ($3,654).