S'pore man's guilty plea for harassing bus driver set aside after dispute on whether his remarks were racist

Nimal De Silva (pictured) allegedly used vulgar language to verbally abuse an SBS bus driver.
Nimal De Silva (pictured) allegedly used vulgar language to verbally abuse an SBS bus driver.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - A man who had earlier pleaded guilty in a district court to a harassment charge after he live-streamed a confrontation with an SBS bus driver has had his plea set aside.

District Judge Chee Min Ping made the decision on Thursday (Oct 21) after Nimal De Silva's defence lawyer, Mr Luke Netto, disagreed with the prosecution's submissions that stated his client had used "racist and xenophobic" language on Mr Xu Bo, 55, a Chinese national.

Mr Netto told the court that the intention behind De Silva's comments to Mr Xu was not because he is racist or xenophobic.

He said the case instead involved a communication breakdown between his client and Mr Xu.

Mr Netto added that De Silva, a 44-year-old Singaporean, had "suffered prejudice" following his conviction last month.

In response, Deputy Public Prosecutor Cheah Wenjie said he had used the word "xenophobic" in his submissions to describe the nature of the language De Silva had used. He also said it was "clear" that the words were racist and xenophobic.

After hearing both sides, Judge Chee said De Silva's harassment charge "in essence has been disputed" and set aside his guilty plea.

A pre-trial conference on the case will take place on Nov 22.

According to court documents, De Silva was on board bus service 196 at around 6pm on Aug 19, 2020, when he allegedly used vulgar language to verbally abuse Mr Xu.

He also used a mobile phone to film the incident and live-streamed it on Facebook, the court heard.

For harassing a public service worker, an offender can be jailed for up to a year and fined up to $5,000.