Defamation trial for TOC chief editor, article writer begins

27-Oct-2020 Intellasia | Yahoo News Singapore | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The trial against The Online Citizen (TOC) chief editor Terry Xu and an alleged article writer Daniel De Costa Augustin for criminally defaming members of Singapore’s Cabinet opened on Monday (26 October).

De Costa, 37, is accused of sending an e-mail titled “PAP MP apologises to SDP” to TOC’s e-mail account on 4 September 2018, intending that the e-mail be published on TOC’s website. The e-mail allegedly stated that there was “corruption at the highest echelons”.

The 38-year-old Xu, whose name in court documents was stated as Xu Yuanchen, stands accused of approving the publication of the e-mail in the form of a letter from a “Willy Sum” titled “The Take Away From Seah Kian Ping’s Facebook Post” on TOC’s website on the same day.

The article has since been taken down by Xu.

Both are said to have known that their actions would harm the reputation of members of the Cabinet of Singapore.

De Costa faces an additional charge under the Computer Misuse Act of using another person’s e-mail account without permission to send the e-mail to TOC from an Internet cafe in Chinatown on 4 September 2018.

Defence’s objections rebutted

De Costa’s lawyer M Ravi opened on Monday by objecting to the prosecution proceeding on his client’s Computer Misuse Act charge. The lawyer argued that the prosecution should lead with evidence from the criminal defamation charges in order not to waste the court’s time.

The prosecution, represented by deputy Public Prosecutors Mohamed Faisal, Sheryl Yeo and Senthilkumaran Sabapathy, argued that Ravi was simply seeking to have the proceedings conducted in a manner he preferred.

Ravi then stated that the process was “irregular” and that he would take “an application which is necessary in the High Court”. He then objected to a joint trial between his client and Xu, arguing that it would be prejudicial to De Costa’s case as the “state media” was present.

Rebutting Ravi, DPP Faisal accused the lawyer of blowing hot and cold about having a joint trial, despite earlier agreeing to it. Faisal said that the prosecution will be drawing evidence for all the charges and that the sequence of evidence led was immaterial.

“So at the end of the day let’s not pretend this is about a point of law. This is nothing more than the accused saying, ‘I demand the trial proceed in accordance to my terms’ and that is not something the court ought to condone,” said DPP Faisal.

District Judge Ng Peng Hong said he considered Ravi’s objection but ruled that the joint trial continue.

De Costa used e-mail account without permission since 2011

Taking the stand on Monday was Sim Wee Lee, the person whose e-mail account De Costa is accused of misusing. He testified that De Costa had been using his e-mail account without permission since 25 June 2011.

Sim, who also goes by the name Willy and the Cantonese version of his surname Sum, said that he first met De Costa, who stayed nearby, between 2005 and 2006 while taking his puppies out for a walk. As De Costa passed by the street where Sim would walk his dogs, the two started chatting, with Sim considering De Costa a “good friend”.

As Sim is not proficient in English, he began turning to De Costa for help in replying official e-mails to government agencies.

“I’m grateful for Daniel because at that time I was facing bankruptcy proceedings and also problems with HDB and also problems with summons that were issued against me. Because I was bad in writing in English so I asked him to help me to pen the e-mails,” Sim told the court through a Mandarin interpreter.

Sim handed over his e-mail account password to De Costa for this purpose and would call him at times to check whether the e-mails were sent.

Unknown to Sim, however, De Costa was also allegedly using the account to send out politically charged e-mails in Sim’s name. More than 15 e-mails sent between 2011 and 2018 were allegedly sent by De Costa using Sim’s e-mail, signed off with variations of Sim’s name.

Quizzed on each of these emails, Sim testified that he believed De Costa was the one who sent them, as he was the only one with the password.

Sim said that he had not given De Costa permission to send out these e-mails using his account.

Originally due to start on 27 November last year, the trial was adjourned after Ravi argued that De Costa’s charges were unlawful on constitutional grounds, and applied to have the issues referred to the High Court.

His third constitutional challenge in relation to the case was dismissed by a High Court judge on 2 June, with the judge saying that there were no new constitutional issues that required the determination of a higher court.

The trial continues on Monday.


Category: Singapore

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