Singaporean couple fined after harassing neighbours, including a nurse, amid Covid-19 outbreak

Cheang Eng Hock and Lim Sok Lay at the state courts on May 21, 2021. Cheang was fined $1,200 while his wife was fined $4,000. PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A  couple harassed their neighbour - a hospital nurse - and his family  amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

At the time of the offences, the nurse, Mr Muhammad Najib Ngasewan, was working at Sengkang General Hospital.

The Straits Times understands that his wife, Madam Habibah Sakri, was also an essential service worker at the time.

They lived at an Edgefield Plains block of flats in Punggol with their children.

One of their neighbours, Lim Sok Lay, 49, who is jobless, was fined $4,000 on Tuesday (Feb 8) after she pleaded guilty to three harassment charges and one count of being a public nuisance.

Her husband, cleaning ambassador Cheang Eng Hock, 57, pleaded guilty to a harassment charge and was fined $1,200. Both offenders are Singaporeans.

On Tuesday, the court heard that they got into a verbal dispute with Mr Najib and his family between May 13 and 15, 2020. 

The offenders then shouted the words “Covid”, “Covid spreader”, “virus” and “virus family” at their neighbours. Lim also sprayed  liquid disinfectant  in their direction.

On Nov 11 that year, she saw Mr Najib outside his flat and hurled vulgarities at him.

Lim struck again on April 10 last year when she went up to her front gate and sprayed liquid disinfectant  towards the nurse’s home. 

In an unrelated incident, she also caused a ruckus at Ngee Ann City shopping centre.

Her daughter, who used to work at a hair salon there, was purportedly dismissed earlier following a customer’s complaint.

On Feb 21 last year, Lim went there and demanded to speak to the customer but was denied entry.

She continued shouting even after police officers arrived at the scene.

Lim and Cheang were charged in court last May, with Lim ordered to be remanded at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for psychiatric assessment.

The following month, an IMH psychiatrist found she was fit to plead to the charges as she has no mental disorder, and was not intellectually disabled or of unsound mind at the time of the offences.

Lim later filed a petition to the High Court, arguing that a district judge's decision to order her 14-day remand was not justified and amounted to "serious injustice".

High Court judge Vincent Hoong dismissed the petition in September last year, noting that no error had been made by the lower court.

In an earlier statement, the police said their officers began investigations after receiving a report in May 2020 about the offenders' antics.

All parties involved in the incidents went through mediation at the Community Mediation Centre the following month to seek a resolution.

Despite this, the police said they continued receiving reports between October 2020 and January last year about further acts of harassment by the couple.

Cheang Eng Hock and Lim Sok Lay had targeted their neighbours with acts such as shouting phrases including "Covid spreader" and "virus family". PHOTOS: SCREENGRABS FROM JIBBY4G/INSTAGRAM

On Tuesday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Joseph Gwee said that the couple’s insults were “thoroughly uncalled for, especially against frontline medical staff” amid the pandemic.

Representing the couple, defence lawyer N. K. Anitha, however, said that the offences were not committed because of Mr Najib’s occupation.

She added that Madam Habibah had brought foreign workers to stay at her flat during the lockdown and this was the sole trigger of the disputes between the two families.

The court heard that according to Madam Habibah, the workers were temporarily under “job placement” and were staying at her unit with “approval”.

The lawyer stressed that previously, her clients had no issues with their neighbours.

Ms Anitha said that Cheang then recorded a video of two foreign workers staying next door and a dispute occurred after Madam Habibah confronted him for being a “busy body”.

The lawyer later told ST: “The DPP did not rely on the male occupant’s job as a healthcare worker. The judge also did not take that fact into account in sentencing.”

For each count of harassment, an offender can be jailed for up to six months and fined up to $5,000.

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