On Monday (5 Apr), the High Court accepted the prosecution’s appeal against the lower court’s decision to reduce criminal charges against the two Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) commanders who were involved in Corporal (CPL) Kok Yuen Chin’s death.
In May 2018, CPL Kok drowned in a pump well at Tuas View Fire Station. It was SCDF’s first death from ragging.
Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, rota commander of the fire station and his deputy, First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi were initially convicted on reduced charges of negligence rather than a rash act in 2020, and were subsequently jailed for ten weeks.
According to TODAYonline, Nazhan had also appealed against his conviction but it was thrown out by High Court judge See Kee Oon on Monday (5 Apr).
Justice See reinstated the original charges and determined that both the accused were guilty of intentionally aiding the servicemen to cause grievous hurt to CPL Kok by performing a rash act that endangered human life.
They had failed to prevent the servicemen, who were under their charge, from making CPL Kok enter the 12m deep pump well.
ORD Celebration Had Taken A Tragic Turn
For those who don’t remember what happened, here’s a brief recap.
CPL Kok and his colleagues at the Tuas View Fire Station were celebrating his impending Operationally Ready Date (ORD) with a cake and plaque presentation back in May 2018.
At some point during the celebration, a few officers in the room started shouting, “kolam, kolam”, referring to the well or the ritual of entering the well.
Some officers then lifted CPL Kok out of the room. CPL Kok kept saying, “Jangan encik, jangan”, meaning “Don’t encik, don’t”.
Despite his protestations, the officers told CPL Kok to sit on the edge of the pump well.
Then, Staff Sergeant Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood pushed him forcefully on his back, causing him to fall into the well.
When he was retrieved from the well 36 minutes later, CPL Kok was unconscious.
He died in hospital with the cause of death certified as drowning.
Five officers have since been jailed following the tragic incident.
Reluctance To Take Part In The Ragging Was Very Clear
During their sentencing last year, Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun had called both the accused’s actions “grossly negligent”.
CNA reports that Justice See noted that Judge Ong had not adequately addressed crucial aspects of the evidence and drew erroneous inferences that contradicted the objective evidence.
Justice See emphasised that the original charges had been proven beyond reasonable doubt.
“It was not disputed by either [of the accused] that they owed a duty of care to CPL Kok,” he said. “The inescapable inference was that they had consciously chosen not to stop the ‘kolam’, thus giving a clear sanction for the activity to continue, with knowledge of the risks associated.”
In explaining his decision to reverse the lower court’s sentencing, Justice See said that transcripts show that CPL Kok was “mocked, teased and taunted” before the pump well incident and it could be reasonably inferred that he was nervous about the activity.
CPL Kok had also appeared to be crying at one point in time.
He was surrounded by eight to ten other servicemen, including higher-ranking officers who continued to put pressure on him and even goaded him.
Justice See pointed out that few servicemen would dare disobey a superior’s orders and that “there was no way for CPL Kok to simply stand up and walk away” due to the rigid hierarchy of a uniformed organisation.
It was hence clear that the weight of the evidence “fully supports the inference that CPL Kok was never a willing participant” and that “not a single witness had testified that he had said he consented”.
Therefore, Judge Ong’s inferences such as whether the servicemen gave CPL Kok a choice were deemed inaccurate.
In addition, both Chong and Nazhan had full knowledge of the servicemen’s intent and the expected outcome but did nothing to enforce the prohibition against ragging.
On the night of the incident, Chong had stayed behind in the room to chat with another colleague and reminded the servicemen not to film the ragging when he saw what was going on.
He also said that he thought CPL Kok voluntarily entered the well and did not think his being dunked amounted to ragging.
Nazhan also told CPL Kok to jump closer to the ledge of the wall and again reminded the men not to film, before returning to his office.
The fact that the men chose to ignore the risks and trivialised the potential dangers constituted a rash act, Justice See said.
Justice See will hear submissions on sentence and mitigation pleas at a later date.
The punishments for abetting the causing of grievous hurt by a rash act are four years’ jail, a S$10,000 fine, or both.
Feature Image: New Africa / Shutterstock.com