Charges against 7 Indian nationals withdrawn

SINGAPORE - Seven Indian nationals who allegedly took part in the Little India riot were released on Tuesday, leaving several of them in tears after getting a discharge amounting to an acquittal.

Public prosecutors withdrew the charges against them as the evidence was not good enough, it was explained at a press conference on Tuesday.

But out of the seven, aged between 22 and 45, four will be given stern warnings and face the possibility of further action. No action will be taken against the other three, whose identities were not revealed.

Kong Hwee Iron Works & Construction site manager Ramaiah Thiyagarajan, 44, was in court to receive his 25-year-old employee Selvarasu Dhanapal, one of the seven freed.

Mr Ramaiah told The Straits Times that Mr Selvarasu is a model employee who has been with the company for six years, adding that co-workers were shocked that such a "shy and mild-mannered" man could have been embroiled in the melee.

Mr Sellamuthu Elangovan was the only one of the seven to leave court alone without anyone to receive him. On the verge of tears over his release, the 45-year-old who said he works for Sunho Construction added that he was "happy that there is no problem".

Meanwhile, of the 28 Indian nationals still facing charges, 23 were in court on Tuesday for their alleged role in last Sunday's incident, which was sparked by a fatal traffic accident involving a construction worker from India.

Two of them, Samiyappan Sellathurai, 41, and Sarangan Kumaran, 35, were charged on Tuesday for being part of an unlawful assembly and for "throwing pieces of concrete" at people.

Deputy Public Prosecutor John Lu applied to remand the other 21 suspects, who were charged last Tuesday, for an additional week, as the police needed more time to "determine the exact role (they) played in the riot".

District Judge Lim Tse Haw agreed given the amount of evidence involved, but asked for police to "expedite investigations".

When the judge allowed suspects to speak through a court interpreter, several claimed to have been assaulted by the police "where there was no camera".

Some also claimed that the charges were "fabrications", maintaining their innocence as they were "not there at the scene".

With regard to the assault allegations, the judge said the court takes such claims seriously, and added that the suspects can make a police report.

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran also said: "If the individuals want to make these allegations, they should make a report and the police will investigate this thoroughly. If anyone is found to have committed an offence in the manner that has been described, then appropriate action will be taken.

"I think at the same time, if anyone makes frivolous comments and allegations, they will also be appropriately dealt with."

The cases against the remaining five suspects will be mentioned in court within this week, while the cases against the 23 will be mentioned next Monday.

The Law Society said on Tuesday that it has received applications from several of the workers via its Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, adding that pro bono defence counsel will be assigned for successful applicants "as soon as possible".

How the men are being dealt with

Cases to proceed: 28

The 28 men were allegedly active participants in the Dec8 riot, committing acts of violence, damaging property, defying police orders or inciting others to do so.

They were among 35 charged in court last week. Yesterday, the charges against seven were withdrawn - four will be warned and could face further action; no further action will be taken against the other three. Two other men remain on bail pending further investigations.

To be repatriated: 53

They participated in the riot and failed to disperse despite orders to do so. They will be given a stern warning, repatriated and prohibited from returning to Singapore.

To be advised: about 200

They were present at the scene, but have been assessed to be "relatively passive" by not causing obstruction or participating in the riot. They will be issued a formal police advisory. No further action will be taken against them.

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