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SCDF ragging case: High Court restores more serious charges against commanders after appeals

SCDF ragging case: High Court restores more serious charges against commanders after appeals

First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi and Lieutenant Chong Chee Boon Kenneth, two of the five SCDF officers charged in court over the death of NSF Kok Yuen Chin. (Photos: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: A rota commander and his deputy who had been convicted of reduced charges over the death of a full-time national serviceman had their charges restored to the more serious ones on Monday (Apr 5).

Corporal (CPL) Kok Yuen Chin drowned in a pump well during a ragging incident in May 2018.

Reversing the decision by a lower court, Justice See Kee Oon ruled that former Tuas View Fire Station rota commander Kenneth Chong Chee Boon and his deputy Nazhan Mohamed Nazi were guilty of intentionally aiding the servicemen to cause grievous hurt to CPL Kok by doing a rash act which endangered human life.

The commanders failed to prevent the servicemen under their charge from making CPL Kok, 22, enter the 12m-deep pump well.

The decision comes after the prosecution appealed against the lower court's decision, and Nazhan appealed against his conviction and sentence of 10 weeks' jail. Chong, who received the same sentence in September for a reduced charge of committing a negligent act to endanger human life, did not appeal and has served the 10-week jail term.

READ: SCDF ragging trial: Commanders get jail for roles in fatal case where NSF died after drowning in well

Explaining his decision, Justice See said transcripts showed that CPL Kok was "mocked, teased and taunted" before the pump well incident, and one could "reasonably interpret his demeanour differently as projecting nervous unease and trepidation" since he knew the "kolam" or pump well ragging ritual was impending.

"At one point, he appeared to be crying even while ostensibly keeping up a cheerful outlook. For this, he was teased as well. It is not possible to tell whether these were tears of joy or fear, or a mixture of both," said the judge.

He said that CPL Kok did not choose to go to the well of his own volition. Instead, he was "manhandled and carried there by four persons", while the taunting and mocking "continued relentlessly".

"Removing some of his personal items may seem to reflect a possible willingness on his part to enter the pump well, but it was equally if not
more conceivable that he only did so since he was being given Hobson’s choice," said Justice See, referring to a situation in which there is no real alternative.

The judge said CPL Kok was constantly surrounded by up to eight to 10 other servicemen including higher-ranking officers who continued to put pressure on him and goaded him. His reluctance to participate in "kolam" was "palpable and clear", said the judge.

READ: SCDF ragging trial: Commanders get charges lowered after judge finds prosecution did not prove case on original offences

He said the district judge had not adequately addressed many crucial aspects of the evidence, drawing erroneous inferences including that the servicemen were giving CPL Kok a choice and merely "desired" for him to enter the pump well and get wet.

"On my evaluation of the primary facts, two critical irresistible inferences ought to have been drawn. First, the servicemen were intent on making sure that CPL Kok would undergo the 'kolam' and get wet by going into the pump well," said Justice See.

"This was the expected outcome and the highlight of their pre-ORD celebration. The second inference was that CPL Kok was not being given any choice in the matter. The expected outcome would be achieved by making him go inside the pump well one way or another."

He said the weight of the evidence "fully supports the inference that CPL Kok was never a willing participant", adding that "not a single witness testified that he had said he consented".

"As the prosecution pointedly submitted, there was no way for CPL Kok to simply stand up and walk away. He was a national serviceman in a highly regimented and hierarchical uniformed organisation," said Justice See. 

"It does not require someone to have even experienced NS to appreciate that it would take an unusually bold and defiant NS man, whether full-time or operationally ready, to directly disobey a superior officer’s orders or demands. Few NS men, if any, would be prepared to do so and risk the prospect of immediate punishment or formal disciplinary action."

He said both Chong and Nazhan had full knowledge of the servicemen’s intent and the expected outcome, but did nothing to enforce the prohibition against ragging. 

"Their conscious and deliberate inaction was a clear sanction for the servicemen to carry on with the activity. Having regard to their evidence, it is clear that there was advertence to the obvious risks associated with the 'kolam'. They chose to ignore the risks or to trivialise the possible dangers," said Justice See.

He will hear submissions on sentence and mitigation pleas at a later date.

The punishments for abetting the causing of grievous hurt by a rash act are four years' jail, a S$10,000 fine, or both.

Source: CNA/ll(cy)

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