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Man who auto-downloaded child porn from chat group jailed

Singapore's State Courts seen on 21 April 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Singapore's State Courts seen on 21 April 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — A man who did not turn off the auto-download function in a WhatsApp chat group was jailed for one month on Monday (7 February) after he was found to be in possession of child abuse material shared by the group.

Kolambage Dhanushka Chamara Perera, a 25-year-old Sri Lankan, said he had tried his best to delete the videos material involving children but there were too many for him to keep track.

Perera pleaded guilty to possessing 25 videos of child abuse material, with one count of possessing obscene videos taken into consideration for his sentencing.

On 6 August 2020, Perera was caught after he was seen behaving suspiciously at Lavender MRT station. Foot patrol officers conducted a check on him and found a debit card that did not belong to him. Perera said that his roommate had lent him the card and he was able to prove it. The officers noticed that Perera’s WhatsApp in his mobile phone contained a group chat apparently showing a display picture of a couple in a sexual position.

The officers accessed the group chat and saw that it had 256 participants and over 6,000 media files, some of which involved child pornography. Perera was arrested and his iPhone 7 was seized.

Thousands of obscene videos found

Perera had rented a house in Singapore. When his student pass was about to expire, his housing agent told him that he had to extend his student pass, failing which he would have to move out of the house.

Perera’s friend then introduced him to fellow Sri Lankan Hindakumbure Charindu Dilshan Rajapaksha, 29, who had contacts of people who could take over the unit.

Dilshan had created a WhatsApp chat group with his roommates in 2019, purportedly to share news from their hometown. As the group admin, he then invited other Sri Lankans to join the group and sent a link to Perera to join the group sometime before 7 August 2020.

Other participants in the group began sharing pornographic material and Dilshan did so too.

After joining the group chat, Perera started seeing obscene videos being shared. The media files would be automatically downloaded into his phone gallery.

Although he deleted some of these videos, the participants began to send more of them.

“The accused also admitted in the course of investigations that he was ‘not really interested’ in obscene videos involving underaged subjects and has deleted them although he had tried his best to delete ‘underaged obscene videos’, he might have at sometimes missed out on deleting them, as there were ‘too many of such videos,'” said the prosecution.

Since being arrested, Perera has switched off the auto-download function on his WhatsApp account.

Out of 3,740 videos extracted from Perera’s phone, 2,968 were obscene videos, while 25 contained child abuse material.

Seeking one to two months’ jail for Perera, Deputy Public Prosecutor Tessa Tan said that while Perera “did not actively seek out child abuse material, the fact remains that he allowed his WhatsApp account to function on the ‘auto-download’ mode, such that he was able to eventually amass a large number of obscene films and up to 25 video files constituting child abuse material (in) his possession.”

She pointed out that some videos involved pre-pubescent children, with at least one video involving a baby or toddler.

Perera’s lawyer R Kalamohan pointed out that his client did not create the videos.

“These were sent to him after he was recruited into a WhatsApp group…for Sri Lankan nationals to exchange material about their hometown and their welfare," he said.

“That was what happened initially and subsequently these obscene material was sent to his iPhone and as you see there is automatic download and then it just kept coming although he tried, as he has mentioned, to delete some of it, but after that he just left it."

He told District Judge Shawn Ho, “It is totally unfortunate for this young man to be involved in this group. Of course the blame is his for not leaving the group. The moment it was found out he should have left the group but he did not, and therein lies his culpability.”

The lawyer added that his client’s character would be blemished and sought the lowest possible sentence of a month for Perera’s offence.

Dilshan’s case is pending before the courts. He faces a charge of distributing 16 films containing child abuse material and transmitting 943 obscene films in the WhatsApp chat group.

Possession or gaining access to child abuse material carries a mandatory jail term. Perera could have been jailed for up to five years, and fined or caned.

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