First man to admit to rioting in Little India

SINGAPORE - A construction worker has become the first to plead guilty to rioting over the Dec 8 unrest in Little India, when he admitted to the offence, as well as another of setting fire to property yesterday.

He is expected to be sentenced next Thursday.

The court heard yesterday that Indian national Ramalingam Sakthivel, 33, had pelted police officers and vehicles with projectiles, including a glass beer bottle and a metal drain grille. He even smashed the windscreen of a police vehicle with a wooden pole.

He also helped flip a police car and "savagely attacked" an ambulance with a pole while Home Team officers were inside the Singapore Civil Defence Force vehicle, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Agnes Chan.

Sakthivel then took about 10 minutes to survey the damage and snap pictures with his cellphone, before turning back up in Race Course Road to throw burning items into the private bus involved in the fatal road traffic accident that sparked the violence.

State prosecution played four videos in court showing Sakthivel - dressed in a bright red T-shirt with a distinctive yellow stripe - carrying out the destruction and gesturing for others to join in.

One clip showed him with a cigarette in his mouth as he lit up objects and stuffed the burning items into the bus' fuel gas inlet, in an attempt to set the vehicle ablaze. He then ran off to seek cover from the anticipated flames.

The prosecution estimated that Sakthivel's actions led to damages of more than $370,000.

In his mitigations, lead defence counsel Justin Tan said his client was "utterly regretful that he ever participated in such a riot", which he termed "two hours of foolishness" in which Sakthivel had acted "out of character".

The Indian national had no history of misbehaviour in his five years working here, added Mr Tan, and had been promoted to a driver's role in 2012. "He was impulsive and he had drunk a bit," said the lawyer, in seeking a sentence of 24 months in jail. Court documents stated that Sakthivel had drunk a bottle of brandy before the riot unfolded.

DPP Chan, however, called for a jail term of 30 to 36 months and three to six strokes of the cane, given how Sakthivel had "brazenly damaged public property" and how his "audacious acts reflect his full contempt for authority and the law here".

Six men have served sentences for other charges over the Little India riot, and 18 others have cases pending in court (see box).

hpeishan@sph.com.sg

Cases against 24 men charged

SIX PLEADED GUILTY TO AMENDED CHARGES

Six men who were previously accused of rioting pleaded guilty earlier this year to the amended charge of failing to disperse. It carries at most two years in jail and/or a fine - compared with up to seven years' jail and caning for rioting.

The six men are:

Chinnappa Vijayaragunatha Poopathi, 32 Singaravelu Vignesh, 23 Selvaraj Karikalan, 28 Thangaiya Selvakumar, 25 Thiagarajan Sribalamurugan, 23 Krishnan Saravanan, 31

All have completed jail terms of 15 to 18 weeks each, and are understood to have returned to India.

ONE CLAIMING TRIAL TO AMENDED CHARGE

One man, Mahalingam Thavamani, 27, has an ongoing trial to fight allegations of obstructing a police officer.

State prosecutors spent four days calling on six witnesses, and have wrapped up their case.

Thavamani's defence counsel has told the court he will be submitting that there is no case to answer, and a decision is expected to be made on May 12 as to whether the trial will continue.

17 STILL PENDING

The remaining 17 men have their cases pending in court. At least four are understood to be still facing rioting charges and additional offences.

This article was published on May 1 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

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