Yoga teacher appeals after getting jail for molestation

A yoga instructor who was sentenced to nine months' jail for molesting his student during class has appealed against his conviction even as prosecutors are pushing for a higher sentence in the High Court.

Rakesh Kumar Prasad, 26, was sentenced to jail and fined $1,000 in April this year after a district judge found him guilty of molesting and using criminal force on his student during a class at a Real Yoga studio in Tampines on April 26, 2015.

But during an appeal hearing yesterday, defence counsel Steven Lam said there was still reasonable doubt that Rakesh had molested his student. Mr Lam said there were inconsistent points in the victim's accounts, and closed-circuit television (CCTV) recordings could not show for certain that Rakesh had groped the woman, who was 25 at the time of the incident.

The offence was said to have taken place when he was helping the woman with a yoga pose in an empty classroom, said Mr Lam.

It was then that Rakesh was said to have touched her chest, squeezed it and then tried to slip his hands under her clothes to feel her chest.

However, Mr Lam said that from CCTV recordings, Rakesh's hands seemed to have been facing downwards while helping her in her pose, instead of upwards on her chest.

As Rakesh, who is from India, knew of the CCTV camera and was aware that others were in the vicinity, "the question is why would he want to do something so silly, bearing in mind that he is here on an Employment Pass", said Mr Lam.

Mr Lam also alleged that the woman was looking for a refund. Only when she did not receive one did she file a police report, he said.

This point was disputed by Deputy Public Prosecutor James Chew, who called the allegation "completely baseless and highly insulting to the victim". He noted that the victim was a regular student who had already pre-booked classes prior to that incident.

The district judge had seen the recordings multiple times, the DPP said, and was correct in not drawing any inference from the recordings on the direction of Rakesh's hands.

DPP Chew also called for a heavier sentence of at least 12 months' jail and three strokes of the cane, citing aggravating factors such as the high degree of sexual exploitation. Even after the victim protested, he said, Rakesh proceeded to violate her again and again, each time escalating in severity.

Rakesh's acts were "exceptionally brazen, persistent and aggressive, and need to be deterred", he added.

The results of the hearing will be out on Oct 12.

Cara Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2018, with the headline 'Yoga teacher appeals after getting jail for molestation'. Print Edition | Subscribe