SINGAPORE: Three men were fined on Monday (Dec 2) for breaching the Official Secrets Act over the leaked photos of a field training accident in which full-time national serviceman (NSF) Liu Kai was killed last year.
Muhammad Arif Azman, 22, was fined S$3,000 for taking and disseminating two photos of the accident between a Bionix and a Land Rover on Nov 3 last year.
For circulating the photos, 21-year-old Brandon Tan Jien Jet and 24-year-old Muhammad Zaki Haji Mokhtar were each fined S$1,500.
The three NSFs were attached to Jurong Fire Station at the time as part of their national service under the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).
Arif, a corporal, was part of the rota dispatched to a training accident at Murai Urban Training Facility at about 10.20am on Nov 3 last year.
Corporal First Class Liu Kai, 22, was driving a Land Rover as part of a field training exercise when a Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle reversed into his vehicle and partially mounted it.
He fainted and was attended to immediately by a medic, but died that same morning.
READ: I invite all Singaporeans to see my brother off: Sister of NSF Liu Kai, who died during field training
ARIF WAS ONE OF TWO MEN WHO TOOK PHOTOS OF THE SCENE
When Arif - along with co-accused Mohamad Haikal Mohamad Zainal Abiddin and Thng Yu Xuan - arrived at the scene to help extricate CFC Liu, they noticed the Land Rover crushed below the Bionix.
Before helping his teammates in the extrication, Arif took two photos of the scene with his mobile phone. Both the photos captured the Bionix and the Land Rover crushed beneath.
Haikal, a section commander at Jurong Fire Station, took five photos as well, with three capturing the two vehicles involved, and the other two showing the licence plates.
READ: Death of NSF Liu Kai: Bionix driver continued reversing despite stop commands, police investigating comms between crew
After returning to the fire station, the two men sent the photos they had taken to a WhatsApp chat group comprising 24 current and former SCDF personnel at Jurong Fire Station.
Tan, who was a Sergeant 1 at the time, was not part of the rota sent to the scene, but when he received the photos via the WhatsApp chat, he forwarded two of them to another chat group he had with six friends from the SCDF and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
He did this as they were concerned about what had happened, said Deputy Public Prosecutors Zhou Yihong and Angela Ang.
He knew about the sensitive nature of the photos and that he was not authorised to send them to his friends.
Zaki was no longer serving in the SCDF at the time, but remained in the group chat. When he saw the photos, he forwarded two of them to his brother, as the latter "was curious about the accident".
READ: Enhancements to Bionix safety among measures put in place following COI findings into NSF Liu Kai’s death: Ng Eng Hen
FIRE STATION COMMANDER DIRECTS ALL TO DELETE PHOTOS, BUT ARIF KEEPS TWO
At about 4.10pm on the day of the accident, the commander of Jurong Fire Station Captain Dinesh K Verlachamy was told by an SCDF public affairs officer that a photograph of the accident site had been circulating on WhatsApp.
The photo captured the back view of the Bionix, partially on top of and crushing the Land Rover, and was obviously taken through the front windscreen of an SCDF vehicle, the court heard.
Captain Dinesh immediately issued an order for all those in the relevant rota to gather at the fire station for investigations, with Arif and Haikal subsequently identified as the ones who had taken and initially disseminated the photos.
Though CPT Dinesh directed all personnel to delete the photos of the accident immediately, Arif did not comply. When his phone was later seized and taken for forensic examination, two such photos were found in his phone.
Arif, Tan and Zaki each pleaded guilty to their roles in the incident, with Arif facing one more charge than the rest as he had not complied with instructions to delete all the photos.
READ: ‘I am deeply sorry’: Ng Eng Hen on recent NS training deaths, vows accountability for every soldier
PHOTOS WERE HIGHLY SENSITIVE: PROSECUTION
The prosecution had asked for a S$1,500 fine per charge for each of them, saying the photos were "patently highly sensitive in nature".
Emergency personnel should be expected to maintain the confidentiality of sensitive material, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Zhou Yihong.
She said the fine should reflect the seriousness of the offence, especially in today's social media age where everyone has a phone and the sharing of images and videos has become second nature.
Tan's lawyer, Muralli Raja Rajaram, asked for a S$1,000 fine for his client, saying that Tan had not been at the scene and that he deleted the photos shortly after the incident.
The offence was committed on the spur of the moment, said the lawyer, pointing out a line in the statement of facts that said he had forwarded the photos to his friends as they were "concerned" about what had happened.
"There was no malice," he said.
Arif did not add anything in his own defence, while Zaki pleaded for a light sentence, adding that he was taking care of his sick mother.
The judge said the fines sought by the prosecution were "reasonable and justified".
After the incident, Liu was given the rank of CFC posthumously, and SCDF filed a police report against the five of its NSFs involved.
A Committee of Inquiry (COI) ordered to investigate CFC Liu's death found that the Bionix driver involved in the incident had continued reversing despite commands to stop.
Aside from the three men fined on Monday, three others have also been charged over the case.
Captain Ong Lin Jie, who was the vehicle commander of the Land Rover, was charged with a rash act causing death. He intends to claim trial and will return to court for a pre-trial conference on Dec 23.
The other two men dispatched to the scene - Haikal and Thng - have their cases pending.
For sending photos of the incident to other people in contravention of the Official Secrets Act, the men could be jailed for up to two years, fined a maximum of S$2,000, or both.
Editor's note: An earlier version of the story stated that Brandon Tan's lawyer had asked for a fine of S$500 for his client. The amount has been corrected to S$1000. We apologise for the error.