This story was updated at 5.52pm on 11 June 2019 to reflect further statements from the witness.
SINGAPORE — A Singapore Civil Defence (SCDF) officer who was involved in a fatal ragging incident said on Tuesday (11 June) that he would have ceased his actions if he had been told to do so by his supervising officers.
Staff Sergeant Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood, 34, was testifying in the State Courts on the second day of the trial against his former superiors, Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon and First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi.
On 13 May last year, Fatwa had helped carry 22-year-old Corporal Kok Yuen Chin to Tuas View Fire Station’s pump well to celebrate Kok’s impending operationally ready date (ORD).
He later pushed the full-time national serviceman (NSF) into the well, which was filled with water up to a depth of 11m. Kok drowned in the incident.
Chong and Nazhan, who were in charge of the men on duty on the night of the incident, currently face one charge each of helping the officers to cause grievous hurt to Kok by failing to prevent the men from making him enter the well.
Fatwa was jailed 13 months on 23 October last year for his role in the incident and is currently on a home detention scheme.
A form of celebration
According to Fatwa, the practice of putting fellow officers in the station’s well – referred to as “Kolam” (“pool” in Malay) – was a form of celebration.
“Kolam is way to celebrate an occasion. For example, like a departure of someone posted out of station,” he told the court.
Fatwa said that he and two other men had previously put another officer into the pump well during a farewell event and that no disciplinary action had been taken against them for it.
On the night of the incident, the officers on duty had held a small party in the station’s control room to mark Kok’s impending ORD. As Kok left the room at around 9pm, a group of men, allegedly accompanied by Nazhan, carried Kok to the well.
Referring to video footage taken at the time, Fatwa pointed out that after Kok was placed at the pump well’s edge, Nazhan had raised his arm and told Kok “If you cannot swim, you jump from near the ledge of the Kolam.”
Nazhan then left for his office, which was behind the well. Fatwa added that Chong had remained in the control room and had only shouted at the group to tell them not to film their actions.
Asked if he considered the pump well incident to be ragging, Fatwa said “I’m not so sure”.
Responding to a prosecutor who asked if he would have ceased his actions upon Nazhan or Chong’s orders, he said, “Yes, because they are my supervisors.”
Panic after victim entered well
While Fatwa initially believed that Kok would enter the pump well “voluntarily”, he ended up pushing Kok into the water while the NSF was sitting on the well’s ledge.
He had pushed Fatwa at the behest of a superior, Warrant Officer 1 Mohamed Farid Mohamed Saleh.
When asked why he listened to Farid, Fatwa said “Cause (has a) higher rank than me.”
Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohubalan then asked, “But this wasn’t an SCDF operation, so why did you listen to someone of higher rank than you?”
“Compared to someone of a lower rank, I would not listen. He is a supervisor so I will listen,” said Fatwa, who added that he had also done so out of respect.
The group soon began to panic as Kok failed to resurface for air. Five men, including Fatwa, entered the water in intervals but could not reach Kok.
They continued their rescue efforts even as the well was drained, with Fatwa having requested breathing apparatus to perform the task. Another officer finally managed to extract Kok from a deeper portion of the well.
Witness still having nightmares
When asked to describe Kok, Fatwa described the NSF as being always cheerful and smiling – even when receiving harsh words from others.
“He doesn’t show any anger or any sign of sadness,” said Fatwa, who called Kok a friend. He added that Kok would help with audit preparations without expecting any repayment.
He told the court that he had nightmares and sleeping problems following the incident, prompting him to visit a psychiatrist at the Institute of Mental Health twice to “relax himself”.
Chong’s lawyer, Wee Pan Lee, then asked Fatwa if he still felt guilty over his actions, to which the latter replied “yes”. Fatwa acknowledged that he blamed himself for the incident
Of the two remaining officers charged in relation to the incident, Staff Sergeant Adighazali Suhaimi has been jailed one month while Farid has not been dealt with.
Farid was charged with instigating Fatwa to push Kok, while Adighazali had deleted mobile phone footage of the incident. All five men involved in the incident are currently suspended from service.
The trial continues on Tuesday afternoon.