Two-and-a-half years' jail and caning for Little India rioter

The first man who pleaded guilty to rioting during last December's unrest in Little India was sentenced to two and a half years' jail and three strokes of the cane yesterday.

Ramalingam Sakthivel, an Indian national, was also given a jail term of two years and three months for causing mischief by fire.

Both sentences will run concurrently, but they were backdated to Dec 8 - the night of Singapore's first riot in more than 40 years and his arrest.

The 33-year-old had met friends in Little India earlier that day and later consumed a bottle of brandy, the court heard. He was walking towards Race Course Road with the intention of taking a chartered bus back to his dormitory when he saw the mob.

He then joined in and pelted police officers and vehicles with projectiles, and smashed the windscreen of a police vehicle with a wooden pole.

The construction worker also helped to flip a police car and attacked an ambulance with a pole while Home Team officers were taking cover in the Singapore Civil Defence Force vehicle.

Earlier, the court was shown video evidence of Ramalingam attempting to set a private bus at the scene on fire. The prosecution estimated that his actions caused damage amounting to more than $370,000.

Deputy Presiding Judge Jennifer Marie had harsh words for Ramalingam during sentencing.

"The accused was no meek follower - he rallied others to join him and pursued a course of conduct that showed him to be unfazed by the risk to his own life and limb," she said, adding that he had displayed "open hostility" against law enforcement officers. "The audacious acts of violence by the accused reflected his contempt for authority, and law and order."

She said that while she had taken into account mitigating factors raised by the defence, including Ramalingam's clean record in the five years he has worked here, his actions could not be considered in isolation.

"The point of a rioting charge of this nature is that the accused is held accountable for the acts of all involved," the judge said.

"Each individual who takes an active part by deed or encouragement is guilty of the collective offence of rioting."

Judge Marie added that a deterrent sentence was also necessary to send a general message to potential offenders that punishment "will not only be certain, but unrelenting".

His lawyer, Mr Justin Tan from Trident Law, said his client does not plan to appeal. "Our client is remorseful and is going to serve his term."

Six other men, mainly Indian nationals, have served sentences for other charges related to the riot. Some 18 others have cases against them pending in court.

This article was published on May 9 in The Straits Times.

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