TOC editor and author of article about MP Seah Kian Peng to be charged with criminal defamation

SINGAPORE – The editor of The Online Citizen (TOC) Terry Xu Yuan Chen will be charged with criminal defamation on Thursday (Dec 13), along with a man who allegedly wrote an article on the socio-political website about MP Seah Kian Peng, which alleged corruption by Government officers.

Although the purported author of the article was a Willy Sum, the police contend it was, in fact, written by De Costa Daniel Augustin, 35, who logged into Willy Sum’s email account without his consent, and sent the article to TOC.

It was only after the police had searched Willy Sum’s home and were convinced that the article was not written by him that they applied to search De Costa’s house and managed to reach him just before he was leaving to board a flight.

De Costa allegedly wrote the article titled “The Take Away from Seah Kian Ping’s Facebook Post” in response to comments Mr Seah made on Facebook about a meeting between several Singaporean activists and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in August.

Investigations suggested the article was sent to the website under Willy Sum’s name.

Police said that the TOC editor, 36, who also goes by the name Terry Xu, will be charged with criminal defamation for publishing the article, which referenced the meeting between Dr Mahathir and historian Thum Ping Tjin, freelance journalist Kirsten Han, comic artist Sonny Liew and activist Jolovan Wham in Putrajaya.

Dr Thum had posted on Facebook on Aug 30 about his meeting, saying he had asked the Malaysian leader to “take leadership in South-east Asia for the promotion of democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and freedom of information”.

Police said on Nov 20 that the article made serious allegations that “the Government’s highest officers are corrupt and that the Constitution has been tampered with”.

De Costa faces an additional charge of unauthorised access to computer material under the Computer Misuse Act, for logging into Willy Sum’s email account without his consent.

Xu then published the article on the website without verifying the identity of the author, the statement added.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) lodged a police report on Oct 5 about the article. Upon receiving the report, the police consulted the Attorney-General’s Chambers and were given sanction to investigate.

The police also applied to the courts for, and were granted, a warrant to search the houses of Xu and Willy Sum.

On Nov 20, while searching Willy Sum’s house, the police found evidence that the article was not written by him. The police then applied for a search warrant against De Costa on the same day (Nov 20), and he “facilitated a search at his house” after being spotted leaving for a 3.45pm flight when the police arrived at 2.50pm.

In the statement, the police also responded to two allegations that were made against their actions in this case. First, on how the police had supposedly “over-reached” by seizing the electronic equipment of those involved.

“As part of its investigations, the police had seized electronic equipment including laptops, mobile phones and hard drives from Xu and De Costa. This was necessary to secure and preserve evidence,” the statement said.

The police added that the seizure of the electronic equipment from Xu and De Costa uncovered evidence pointing towards the identity of the true author of the article, in this case, De Costa.

Second, a post supposedly written by De Costa’s mother also said that the police had “unreasonably prevented” De Costa from leaving Singapore for an overseas trip.

Responding, it said: “The police had to act quickly as we had obtained information which suggested that De Costa was the true author of the offending article.”

TOC resumed publication on Nov 26, six days after the site was suspended. Police seized electronic equipment, including desktop computers, mobile devices and laptops from Xu’s home.

Mr Xu said last month that on Sept 18, the IMDA had ordered TOC to take down the article, and he complied on the same day.

Anyone convicted of criminal defamation can be punished with up to two years in prison, a fine, or both.

Anyone convicted of unauthorised access to computer material can be punished with up to two years in prison, a fine not more than $5,000, or both.

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