SINGAPORE — Two Singapore Civil Defence Officers (SCDF) commanders implicated in the ragging death of a 22-year-old full time national serviceman had their charges downgraded on Friday (17 July) after a district judge found that their more serious charges had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
At the verdict hearing for First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 42, and Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 39, District Judge Ong Hian Sun found that the evidence had not pointed to the two accused expecting that Corporal Kok Yuen Chin would be pushed into a pump well.
“There were inherent difficulties with the prosecution’s evidence in proving that the accused persons had requisite mens rea to abet the group of individuals collectively... apart from a general expectation of Kok to enter the pump well, there was no common consensus as to what ‘kolam’ entailed. There was also no unity of purpose that physical force would be applied to cause him to enter the well against his will,” said the judge.
DJ Ong therefore put forth a downgraded charge which accuses both of committing a negligent act which endangered human life by failing to prevent the servicemen from making Kok enter the 12m-deep well. Chong pleaded guilty to the amended charge on Friday, while Nazhan pleaded not guilty.
Nazhan’s lawyer Singa Retnam will be making more submissions in respect of his client’s case. Both accused will then return to court on 18 August.
Details of the case
Nazhan and Chong are the respective deputy commander and commander in charge of the Tuas View Fire Station’s Rota 3 officers who pushed Kok into a pump well on 13 May 2018.
Kok, who could not swim, drowned in the well and five servicemen, including Nazhan and Chong, were charged over his death in July 2018.
Chong and Nazhan were handed one charge each of helping the Rota 3 officers cause grievous hurt to Kok through a rash act by failing to prevent the men from making Kok enter the well.
During the trial, it emerged that 13 May 2018 was Kok’s last day of duty and that he had been celebrating his Operationally Ready Date in three days’ time. Rota 3 officers gathered at the Fire Station’s watch room on the ground floor at about 8.30pm to commemorate his ORD with a cake and a plaque.
Staff sergeant Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood then suggested that Kok partake in an ORD ritual of entering the pump well, or “kolam”, despite it being a form of ragging explicitly prohibited in SCDF.
Though Kok was reluctant to participate in the ritual, he was later carried to the well, which was filled with water to a depth of 11 metres. He removed his personal belongings and was egged on by his colleagues as he sat at the edge of the well. Eventually, another officer, First Warrant Officer Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh, told Fatwa to push Kok.
Fatwa did so and Kok fell into the water without resurfacing. He was found 36 minutes later and was pronounced dead by paramedics.
Trial began in June 2019
During the trial, the court heard that Chong had not accompanied the other men to the well, only sticking his head out of a room window to tell the group not to film the incident. Chong’s lawyer Wee Pan Lee argued that Chong had not been aware that Kok was at the pump well, nor was he able to see if Kok was present.
While Nazhan had accompanied the group to the pump well, he left for his office before the incident occured.
Commenting on the sequence of events, DJ Ong said that there was “no concrete plan” to carry out the ragging on Kok from the start. The act of carrying Kok to the well was spontaneous and was not at the command of either accused persons, said the judge.
“There was no clear evidence of common intention to cause Kok to enter the well involuntarily. I do not agree with the prosecution that the serviceman had been unrelenting in their bid to get Kok to enter pump well by any means,” he added.
The acts of the servicemen in egging Kok on and taunting him merely conveyed the expectation that the victim would enter the well.
Without consulting the others, Fatwa then “took matters into his own hands” and pushed Kok in, to the surprise of many of the servicemen. This came so suddenly that the rest were not in a position to stop him, DJ Ong added.
As neither accused was present at the pump well, they did not witness the push by Fatwa, nor did they have an opportunity to intervene, noted the judge.
That said, the judge found that both still showed a “dereliction of duty” as both had failed to stop a prohibited activity from being carried out.
“They are legally obliged as Kok’s commanders to ensure that Kok’s life and safety were not endangered while he was on duty. The onus fell on both accused to prevent ‘kolam’ from being carried out. Failure to do so amounted to illegal omission,” said the judge.
He concluded that evidence to establish the charge of a negligent act endangering human life had been made out for the two.
While their original charge carries a jail term of up to two years, or fined up to $5,000, or both, the amended charge has a jail term of up to three months’, or a fine of up to $1,500, or both.
Three others who were dealt with
Farid was jailed 13 months’ after he was found guilty of abetting Fatwa to commit a rash act which caused Kok’s death.
Farid had instigated Fatwa to push Kok into the pump well.
Fatwa was jailed for a year after having pleaded guilty to committing a rash act not amounting to culpable homicide and abetting Staff Sergeant Adighazali Suhaimi in the obstruction of justice by asking him to delete a video recording of the fatal incident.
Adighazali had filmed Kok being pushed into the well on his mobile phone, but later deleted the recording at Fatwa's instigation.
He was also jailed a month after he admitted to intentionally obstructing the course of justice by deleting the video recording.
Stay in the know on-the-go: Join Yahoo Singapore's Telegram channel at http://t.me/YahooSingapore