Little India riot: Judge orders accused to give evidence

Construction worker Mahalingam Thavamani is accused of obstructing a police officer on the night of the Dec 8 riot. The judge ruled that the prosecution has made its case against the Indian national.
Construction worker Mahalingam Thavamani is accused of obstructing a police officer on the night of the Dec 8 riot. The judge ruled that the prosecution has made its case against the Indian national.ST FILE PHOTO

A district judge ruled yesterday that construction worker Mahalingam Thavamani has to give evidence in his own defence in the trial over allegations that he obstructed a police officer on the night of the Dec 8 riot.

Thavamani's lawyer, Mr B.J. Lean, last week submitted that there is no case to answer and urged the court to acquit his client after the prosecution wrapped up its case with six witnesses on the stand over four days.

Mr Lean argued in written submissions that "the prosecution has failed in proving the elements of the offence" and Thavamani "had merely gone looking for his missing brother", who had a history of fainting spells.

District Judge Salina Ishak, however, ruled yesterday that the prosecution has made its case and Thavamani has to give evidence.

The trial against the Indian national will resume next Monday with the defence expected to call upon the accused and his brother, who was with him on the night of the riot in Little India, among other witnesses.

Thavamani is the first of 25 Indian nationals charged in relation to the December fracas to claim trial. The 27-year-old was initially accused of rioting, but now faces an amended charge of obstructing Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Subramaniam N. by allegedly defying orders to leave a restricted area near Belilios Road that night.

According to the prosecution's written submissions, a police intelligence officer who gave evidence behind closed doors told the court earlier that he had repeatedly told Thavamani in Tamil to leave the area during the riot.

The officer, who cannot be identified due to the nature of his work, was also one of two officers who arrested the accused. He testified that Thavamani refused to leave and instead insisted on entering Belilios Road without providing a reason.

The accused did not physically obstruct DSP Subramaniam - who later ordered his arrest - read the submissions, but his "non-compliance... for a period of 10 minutes did, in fact, frustrate (the DSP) in his attempt to perform his duty", which amounts to obstruction, argued the prosecution.

Under Section 152 of the Penal Code, anyone who obstructs a public servant in the course of his work dispersing an unlawful assembly or suppressing a riot could be dealt a jail term of up to eight years and/or a fine.

Only one of the 25 men has been convicted so far of rioting, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years and caning. Ramalingam Sakthivel, 33, was last week sentenced to 30 months' jail and three strokes of the cane after pleading guilty to rioting and mischief by fire.

Six others have been sentenced to between 15 and 18 weeks for failing to disperse, and the remaining 17 have their cases pending in court.

hpeishan@sph.com.sg