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Little India riot: Indian national sentenced to 25 months’ jail

The prosecutor described Samiyappan Sellathurai as an “instigator” who spurred the crowd to turn into a mob of violent rioters.

SINGAPORE: A 42-year-old Indian national who became the sixth man to be convicted of rioting during the melee in Little India last December was sentenced to 25 months in prison on Thursday (Aug 14).

The district court heard that on Dec 8 last year, former construction worker Samiyappan Sellathurai had smashed a concrete slab, threw pieces of concrete in the direction of public servants and public service vehicles, and used a metal rack to smash against a wall.

The riot, which was the worst outbreak of violence in the Republic in more than four decades, was sparked off by a fatal bus accident involving another Indian national, Sakthivel Kumaravel.

At about 10.08pm that night, Samiyappan was part of a crowd standing at the junction of Race Course Road and Kerbau Road. A number of public service vehicles were parked across the road, where public servants were trying to maintain law and order as well as rescue bus driver Mr Lee Kim Huat, 55, and bus time-keeper Madam Wong Geck Woon, 38.

Samiyappan, who was intoxicated, watched as the violence escalated near the bus. At 10.09pm, he squatted down and tried to remove a concrete slab which was used to pave the ground. As the slab was heavy and stuck to the ground, he instigated others to help him do so, and they managed to dislodge the slab from the ground.

He then lifted the concrete slab and smashed it onto the ground, intending to use the broken pieces as projectiles. The slab broke on his second attempt.

Samiyappan immediately took a piece of the broken concrete, ran to the roadside and hurled it in the direction of public service vehicles and public servants across the road. The crowd, which prior to this was non-violent, followed suit, picking up pieces of concrete and throwing them in the same direction. Within a span of 10 minutes, Samiyappan threw eight pieces of concrete.

Samiyappan also walked towards a metal rack which was used by a shop to stack goods. He attempted to carry the rack and instigated others to help him do so. Samiyappan and three other persons from the crowd used the metal rack to repeatedly smash against a side wall of the Little India MRT station. However, they failed to bring down the side wall.

At about 10.25pm, Samiyappan left the scene and walked through Kerbau Road to Serangoon Road, the court heard. He subsequently left his then-workplace and went on the run, but was arrested at Changi Airport on Dec 15 last year when he tried to leave Singapore on a flight bound for India.

Describing Samiyappan to be an “instigator”, Assistant Public Prosecutor Dillon Kok pressed for a jail sentence of 24 to 30 months with three strokes of the cane.

"The crowd of onlookers around the accused (Samiyappan) was spurred by the accused’s actions and turned into a mob of violent rioters,” said Mr Kok. “Significantly, after the accused shattered the first concrete slab, fellow rioters following in breaking more slabs. After the accused threw the first projectile, the crowd followed suit.”

He urged the court to punish Samiyappan with a “sufficiently stiff sentence” to reflect the courts’ and society’s “abhorrence of such egregious conduct”.

However, defence lawyer Rajan Supramaniam urged the court to impose a custodial sentence of 18 to 20 months. “He has since realised his foolishness and the gravity of the offence, and deeply regrets his actions,” said Mr Rajan.

A total of 25 men – all Indian nationals – were charged for their role in Little India. Five others who have been similarly convicted of rioting received up to 33 months’ jail term and three strokes of the cane.

The maximum penalty for rioting is seven years’ jail and caning.