Channel NewsAsia

Little India riot: 15 weeks' jail for first man to plead guilty

A construction worker, the first of 25 men accused of taking part in the Little India riot to plead guilty, was sentenced to 15 weeks' jail on Monday.

SINGAPORE: A construction worker was sentenced to 15 weeks' jail on Monday for his involvement in the Little India riot last December.

Chinnappa Vijayaragunatha Poopathi, a 32-year-old Indian national, is the first of 25 men accused of taking part in the riot to plead guilty and be sentenced by the courts.

Initially charged with rioting, which carries a maximum jail term of seven years and caning, he later pleaded guilty to an amended charge, under Section 151 of the Penal Code, of failing to disperse.

The charge under Section 151 carries a maximum penalty of two years' jail and a fine.

It is believed it's the first time Section 151 has been invoked in Singapore.

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

At around 11pm on 8 December, Chinnappa and a friend had gone to a food court called Kodai Canteen, which is located at the junction of Kerbau Road and Chander Road.

This was after they had drunk some beer.

As the pair 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 walking towards the canteen, despite seeing Special Operations Command officers along Chander Road asking people there to disperse.

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

Chinnappa and his friend also shouted at canteen employees, asking that they re-open the shop, which further heightened tensions.

In handing down the sentence, Deputy Chief District Judge Jennifer Marie called Chinnappa's actions "defiant and brazen".

She added that the courts must send a strong signal in sentencing -- that unruly and defiant conduct will not be tolerated and punishment for this will be "certain and unrelenting".

"An offence of this nature, viewed in the context of efforts of the Special Operations Command troops to quell the mayhem and prevent further outbreaks of disorderly behaviour, offends the sensibilities of the general public with acceptable norms of civil behaviour and good order," the judge said.

She noted that while a general deterrent sentence is needed, she acknowledged that Chinnappa had not been in the immediate vicinity where the riot broke out nor had he been involved in any egregious acts of violence or damaged any property.

He also had not impeded emergency rescue operations or assistance rendered to the injured.

Sunil Sudheesan, defence counsel for Chinnappa, said: "I think the sentence overall is fair. He feels remorse for what he has done. I don't think he knew the extent of what was going on at that point of time because he wasn't at the Race Course Road area."

The judge ordered Chinnapa's sentence to take effect from December 8 -- the day of his arrest.

He will be repatriated after his release.

The riot -- Singapore's first in more than 40 years -- was believed to have been triggered by the death of a foreign worker.

It involved some 400 foreign nationals, and left 43 enforcement officers injured, as well as 24 emergency vehicles damaged.

The judge also noted in her brief oral grounds of decision that the magnitude of the incident brings home starkly how Singapore's reputation as a safe and law-abiding nation can be undermined by such an unruly mob.

Pointing out that law and public order form the bedrock upon which peace and progress in Singapore are founded, she added: "The courts must remain constantly vigilant in ensuring that all offences that jeopardise such a foundation be firmly and resolutely dealt with." 

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna