A co-founder of the now-defunct sociopolitical blog The Real Singapore was sentenced to eight months’ jail time by a Singaporean court on Tuesday.

Yang Kaiheng, 27, pleaded guilty to six counts of sedition last Friday. Yang was accused of sowing discord between locals and foreigners through articles on the popular site, which was taken down by the government last May. He will begin serving his sentence on July 5.

Yang Kaiheng. Photo: Stand News via Channel 8 screenshot.

Prosecutors said that the articles were stories made up to arouse hatred against immigrants. According to AFP, one such story claimed that a Chinese boy urinated in a bottle on public transport.

See also: HKFP Interview: Singaporean blogger Roy Ngerng on the costs of exercising freedom of speech

Singapore’s laws against sedition – which carry a maximum punishment of a SG$5,000 (HK$29,000) fine and three years in jail per charge – prohibit acts that incite racial hatred. But critics believe that it is also a tool to limit free speech, the BBC reported.

Previously, Singaporean blogger Roy Ngerng was sued for defamation by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Socio-political blogger Alex Au was fined for contempt of court over a blog post, and Leslie Chew was arrested for sedition over a cartoon.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sued Roy Ngerng for a total equivalent to HK$1 million. Photo: Wikicommons remix.

2015 Freedom House report highlighted the government’s shutdown of The Real Singapore, saying that although the online restrictions imposed did not neutralise the importance of the internet as “a space for alternative and more authentic voices” – including anti-government sentiments – the government could “succeed in slowing down the growth of independent news sites and in discouraging more organised activism.”

‘Xenophobia and racism’

District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt said Yang exploited feelings of nationalism for financial gain and compared the incident to Brexit, saying that nationalism could degenerate into xenophobia, racism, and violence.

The prosecution said that Yang controlled most of the advertising revenue made from the website and played an active part in the administration of the site’s operations. He also said that there were inconsistencies in his testimony and that Yang had lied in court, the Straits Times reported.

Yang’s lawyer pleaded for a five-month sentence, saying that Yang’s father had suffered a stroke last year.

Yang’s 23-year-old Australian-Japanese wife, Ai Takagi, who is also a co-founder of the site, pleaded guilty from the start and was sentenced to 10 months in jail. She began serving the term in April.

Yang’s sentence was less harsh than his wife’s because the judge said that Ai was the author of the articles that were said to be seditious.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.