University of Queensland student Ai Takagi and former student Yang Kaiheng with their legal team earlier in the case. Photo: Aristotle Eng
A pregnant Australian publisher is about to spend 10 months in a foreign jail under laws labelled “archaic” and used to clamp down on free speech.
For someone in her position, 23-year-old Ai Takagi was surprisingly upbeat.
The University of Queensland student running a website in Singapore last year, fell foul of the country’s sedition laws, which have increasingly been used against its tightly controlled press.
Takagi spent Friday preparing to spend up to 10 months in the Changi Women’s prison, where she was expecting to live in a cell housing four to eight women, with only an hour outside each day for exercise.
“I’ll be given a straw mat to sleep on and then some blankets and that’s about it,” she told Fairfax Media.
“There’s a toilet and a shower head, it’s all in the same cell.
“So everything is in the cell and they’ll give you your food as well in your cell.”
The Australian, who was living in Singapore and running The Real Singapore website, was found guilty in March of four charges of sedition – promoting feelings of ill-will amongst races or against the government. She was given a month to prepare for prison.
One of the articles wrongly identified a Filipino family as the cause of an incident at symbolic Hindu festival Thaipusam and others appeared to be mostly complaints or opinion pieces targeting other minorities sent to The Real Singapore and published by the website.
Local media labelled TRS a “hate site” but its 23-year-old editor said it was simply a way for Singaporeans to express themselves.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in March issued a rare comment on a foreign judicial case criticising the jailing given Takagi was “young, pregnant and had issued an apology”.
Malaysian and Singaporean media expert Dr Joseph Fernandez labelled Singapore’s sedition laws “archaic” and said they had increasingly been used to punish the press in recent years. The country dropped to 154th on the World Press Freedom index earlier this week.
After her sentencing, the Australian of Japanese descent told Fairfax Media she was resigned to jail time but stood by what she did.
Takagi’s mood was much the same on Friday as she prepared to head across town to her new home, the prison in the nation’s east.
“I’m feeling all right,” she said.
“We’ve accepted everything.”
She did not want to talk about what arrangements, if any, had been made for her to give birth.
According to the Asia One news service, the 1994-built prison was made up of five four-storey blocks housing almost 1300 women, a significant upgrade on the original 637 women in 44 dormitories and 177 cells.
In a 2014 profile, the publication described “the seven-metre-high prison walls that cut off all sound from the outside, the stark concrete floors and walls, and the intense discipline the women are subjected to.”
Takagi said her sentence would be reviewed in August and she could be released about three or four months early on good behaviour.
As chief editor of TRS, Takagi pleaded guilty to charges over the four articles but maintained they were written by members of the public and she had simply failed to fact check them.
But her husband, Singaporean man Yang Kaiheng, elected to fight his seven counts of sedition, arguing he was not in charge of the website.
His trial began in late March and was adjourned until June 22.