A prosecution witness called to the stand yesterday in the trial of construction worker Mahalingam Thavamani ended up corroborating the defence.
Indian national Thavamani is accused of obstructing police during the Dec 8 Little India riot, when he supposedly tried to enter a restricted area along Belilios Road despite being told not to. The 27-year-old maintains he was only waiting for his younger brother, who had gone to a nearby toilet.
His friend, Mr Malairasu Sureshkumar, a 29-year-old shipyard cleaner, attested to this when he was called by the prosecution.
"Thavamani was afraid that something had happened to his brother," the Indian national told the court via a Tamil interpreter. "He was confused, he did not know where to look."
Mr Sureshkumar, who was with Thavamani and two other workers when the arrest happened, said his friend had reason to be worried. He explained that the brother, Mahalingam Mathavan, 23, had a history of fainting spells and was on medication.
Mr Sureshkumar also told the court yesterday that he did not see Thavamani try to break past the police or raise his voice at the authorities. Instead, the four friends tried to leave the riot's vicinity after the police told them to. It was "chaotic, scary and crowded everywhere" at the scene, he added.
The testimony echoed what Thavamani's lawyer B.J. Lean had told the court earlier - that his client was there waiting for his brother, who had only recently arrived in Singapore.
Thavamani, who is accused of obstructing Deputy Superintendent of Police N. Subramaniam, is the first out of the 25 men charged over their alleged roles in the riot to claim trial.
DSP Subramaniam, who took the witness stand on Tuesday, admitted he could not identify the accused in court.
He also testified that he ordered the arrest of a man he believed to be Thavamani after the worker disobeyed police orders and "was insistent" in going down Belilios Road - an area which was being cleared by the police.
The man was "becoming agitated, his tone grew louder, and he was adamant that he wanted to enter", said the DSP. He added that he was "certain that he (Thavamani) made no mention" of a lost brother.
The trial was adjourned shortly after another of Thavamani's friends who was with him during the riot was called to the stand. Glass cutter Balakritinan Madhu Damodran, 27, will continue his testimony when the trial resumes next week on a date yet to be confirmed.
The riot - the worst violence in Singapore in more than four decades - left 49 Home Team officers injured and 23 emergency vehicles damaged.
Under Section 152 of the Penal Code, anyone who obstructs a public servant in the course of his work dispersing an unlawful assembly or suppressing a riot could be dealt a jail term of up to eight years and/or a fine.
Six Indian nationals have so far pleaded guilty to failing to disperse and have been sentenced to between 15 and 18 weeks' jail each. Cases involving the rest of those charged remain pending in court.
This article was published on April 10 in The Straits Times.
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