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Little India riot: Construction worker pleads guilty to amended charge

A construction worker has become the first of 25 men accused of taking part in the Little India riot last December to plead guilty.

SINGAPORE: A construction worker has become the first of 25 men accused of taking part in the Little India riot last December to plead guilty.

Chinnappa Vijayaragunatha Poopathi, 32, pleaded guilty on Friday to an amended charge of failing to disperse.

He will be sentenced on Monday and faces a jail term of up to two years and a fine.

Chinnappa, an Indian national, was initially charged with rioting, which carries a maximum penalty of up to seven years' jail and caning.

The charge was amended after the Attorney-General's Chambers carefully considered factors that included the extent of Chinnappa's involvement in the riot.

The court heard that on December 8, Chinnappa and a friend had bought beer from a provision shop in Little India, consumed it, and later proceeded to the void deck of an HDB block in Chander Road to have a chat.

Around 11pm, the pair decided to go to a food court called Kodai Canteen, located at the junction of Kerbau Road and Chander Road.

As they were walking along Chander Road -- near where the riot first broke out -- they saw people running away from the direction of the Kodai Canteen.

They also heard from some of those people that police had advised them not to head in the direction of Kodai Canteen, and to leave the area completely.

Chinnappa and his friend ignored this and continued moving towards the canteen, despite seeing Police Tactical troops from the Special Operations Command (SOC), armed with batons and shields, along Chander Road and commanding people to disperse.

When Chinnappa and his friend got to Kodai Canteen, they joined an assembly of about 10 people there.

"The situation was still volatile and tense. Kodai Canteen was within close proximity of Belilios Lane, where SOC troops were still being pelted with various objects," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Sellakumaran.

Chinnappa and his friend also shouted at canteen employees, asking that they re-open the shop so they could buy things, which further heightened tensions, added the prosecutor.

In pressing for a deterrent sentence of between four and six months' jail, Deputy Public Prosecutor Sellakumaran pointed out that by joining the assembly despite being ordered to disperse, Chinnappa's actions had potentially further fuelled public disorder and disturbance at the scene.

The assembly of persons at the area also impeded efforts by police to quell the riot, and required police intervention.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sellakumaran also pointed out that Chinnappa's actions must be viewed against the backdrop of an incident that was described in Parliament as "the worst public order disturbance in Singapore in more than four decades."

"The magnitude of the riot and the many videos of the riot that were uploaded onto the Internet led to substantial media coverage both locally and globally, and had the potential to severely undermine Singapore's hard-earned status as a safe and law-abiding society," he added.

A total of 24 emergency vehicles were damaged during the riot, including five which were set on fire.

Forty-three enforcement officers were also injured -- some were pelted with items such as stones, beer bottles, and concrete slabs.

Defence counsel Sunil Sudheesan sought a jail term of three months, saying Chinnappa's culpability fell at the lowest end of the sentencing scale.

He said this was because his client did not actively participate in inflicting violence nor damaging property.

He added that Chinnappa was unaware of the extent of the riot that was taking place at the time, as he was not at the area where it first broke out. 

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