Wednesday 18 December 2013

Government Takes Action Against Little India Rioters

Riot: 28 face charges, 53 to be deported
Police investigations largely completed; 200 workers will get police advisories
By Feng Zengkun And Rachel Au-yong, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2013

MORE than a week after mayhem broke out in Little India, police have largely completed their investigations and the authorities are proceeding with charges against 28 foreign workers and deporting another 53 of them.

The 53 will be given stern warnings and banned from entering Singapore. Yesterday, seven others had the charges of rioting dropped against them in court.

Police said another 200 involved in the riot will be given advisories to obey the law but no further action will be taken against them. Their involvement was deemed "relatively passive based on the available evidence", and they can work here as long as they keep on the right side of the law.

The police said about 300 men were involved in the incident, not the initial estimate of 400.

At a press conference yesterday, Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee said not many more arrests, charges or repatriations are expected, barring new information or evidence.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the punishments sent a strong signal that the Government will not tolerate actions by anyone who threatens Singapore's law and order.

"We will spare no effort to ensure that Singapore remains safe and peaceful for all who live, work in or visit our country."

During the riot - sparked by a fatal traffic accident involving Indian national Sakthivel Kumaravelu - some 39 Home Team officers sustained injuries and 25 government vehicles were damaged.

Mr Ng said more than 500 police officers were deployed in the aftermath in a "wide-ranging and fast-moving investigation".

Almost 4,000 people were interviewed, out of whom 420 were called up to assist in the probes.

The 28 workers charged so far were "active participants" in the riot who committed violent acts, damaged property, defied police orders or incited others to do so.

Although the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) had earlier charged 35 people, it withdrew charges against seven for lack of evidence. Four of the seven will receive stern warnings and further action could be taken against them. The remaining three are free to work and live here.

The rounding up of the 53 workers for deportation began at 3.30am yesterday and ended by 5.16am, sources told The Straits Times, with no incident reported at the various dormitories they were picked up from. The workers, employed by 48 companies, are now at the Admiralty West Prison, an immigration depot.

Their actions on Sunday last week ranged from obstructing the police to failing to obey police orders to disperse.

DPM Teo said the repatriation is in accordance with laws here to deal with people assessed to be safety and security threats.

Mr Ng said the Ministry of Manpower will handle their final salaries and other administrative matters before they leave. Some will also be interviewed by the four- man Committee of Inquiry investigating the riot. Their embassies have been alerted and have full consular access to them.

Two others are now out on bail pending further investigations.

Said Mr Teo: "I would like to stress that we deal with those involved in the riot in a strict, firm and fair way. Each of these cases and each of these persons is dealt with carefully. The AGC and police will go through the evidence."

Little India alcohol curbs eased, steps to control crowds
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2013

SOME 240 establishments in Little India and its surrounding areas, including restaurants, were given the all-clear yesterday to sell alcohol this weekend.

But these businesses - which hold public house and beer house licences - cannot let customers consume the drinks outside of their premises, as a ban on public consumption of alcohol remains in place.

Another 134 shops including convenience and liquor shops - which hold retail and wholesale licences - will be able to sell alcohol to customers on a takeaway basis between 6am and 8pm.

The Land Transport Authority also announced that private bus services that ferry workers to Little India on Sundays would resume, but at half the scheduled number for a start.

This is expected to halve the number of workers who use the buses to get to Little India from their dormitories, shrinking the crowd who arrive by buses to about 11,000. All services were suspended last weekend.

Similarly, the police relaxed its alcohol ban in favour of a more "calibrated and sustainable approach", said Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar at a press conference yesterday.

The new rules will be in place on weekends, public holidays and the eves of public holidays for up to six months, until the Committee of Inquiry looking into the Dec 8 riot makes its recommendations.

A ban on the sale and public consumption of booze last weekend acted as a "cooling off" measure after alcohol was identified as a possible factor that fuelled the riot, which left 39 Home Team officers hurt and 25 government vehicles damaged.

Yesterday, the police said the ban helped to restore safety and security in Little India, where foreign workers typically gathered during the weekend to run errands, shop, eat and drink.

But affected businesses in the 1.1 sq km dry zone said sales slumped up to 90 per cent.

A more sustainable approach is needed, said Mr Raja Kumar.

Allowing liquor shops to sell alcohol till the late hours would hamper efforts to enforce the ban on public consumption in the area, he added.

So, instead of an outright ban, the police decided to allow sales up to 8pm.

"The shortening of the retail hours will stop customers from having easy access to alcohol from those outlets during peak crowd periods," he said.

There will also be shorter hours for the private bus services. Instead of running until 11pm, the buses will now stop at 9pm. The measures are aimed at reducing congestion in the area.

The police said it will continue to monitor Little India and keep a strong presence there.

To give foreign workers more options to relax over the weekend, the Ministry of Manpower said it will continue to work with dormitory operators and others to line up activities. More movie screenings are already being organised this weekend.

MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC Denise Phua lauded the new measures, but said more is needed to "counter the root concerns of residents". For example, communal living spaces meant for residents should be reserved for that, and alternative areas for foreign workers found.

Deporting foreigners 'provided for in the law'
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2013

LAWS such as the Immigration Act empower the authorities here to deport foreigners deemed to have posed a threat to the safety and security of Singapore.

"These 53 persons by their actions, by what they have done, satisfy the conditions," Deputy Commissioner of Police T. Raja Kumar said yesterday.

He was addressing the issue of due process with regard to a planned repatriation of 53 migrant workers over their involvement in the Dec 8 riot. "So, the assessment has been made and the removal order has been given for them to be repatriated back to their countries," he said. "This is provided for in the law."

Mr Raja Kumar's comments came after civil society group Workfair Singapore said they appealed to the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants over the deportation of the workers.

They include 52 Indian nationals and one from Bangladesh.

Mr Raja Kumar also addressed allegations made by a few of the suspected rioters in court on Tuesday of assault by police officers during their detention.

He said the police take a serious view of all complaints, each of which will be investigated.

"If criminal charges are disclosed, the police will not hesitate to take criminal action against the officer concerned," he said.

"However, if the allegations are found to be false, appropriate action, in accordance with our laws, will be taken against any persons who have furnished false information to the police."

Mr Raja Kumar was speaking to the media yesterday at a briefing on the alcohol ban in Little India. On the same day, two alleged rioters were ordered to be remanded for an additional week to assist in ongoing investigations into the violence on Dec 8.

The case against Indian nationals Moorthy Kabildev, 24, and Sathiyamoorthy Sivaraman, 26, will be heard again on Monday.

To date, a total of 28 Indian nationals face charges for their involvement in the riot, which was sparked by a fatal accident at the junction of Race Course Road and Tekka Lane. The India High Commission said yesterday that the families of the men who have been charged for rioting are being kept abreast of the situation.

The Law Society said in a statement that of the 28 workers, individual pro bono defence counsel will be assigned to 26 of them under its Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS).

The remaining two have already engaged their own counsel.

Responding to further queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman said more than 30 lawyers responded to a call for pro bono volunteers to represent the accused persons in what is expected to be a high-profile hearing.

"Given the number of accused in this particular issue, the number of volunteer lawyers who have come forward is comparable to the usual CLAS' call for volunteers," he said, adding that there were some who came forward specifically for this matter.

Charges against 7 Indian nationals withdrawn
Four of them will be given stern warnings, could face further action
By Walter Sim And Rachel Au-yong, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2013

SEVEN Indian nationals who allegedly took part in the Little India riot were released yesterday, leaving several of them in tears after getting a discharge amounting to an acquittal.

Public prosecutors withdrew the charges against them as the evidence was not good enough, it was explained at a press conference yesterday.

But out of the seven, aged between 22 and 45, four will be given stern warnings and face the possibility of further action. No action will be taken against the other three, whose identities were not revealed.

Kong Hwee Iron Works & Construction site manager Ramaiah Thiyagarajan, 44, was in court to receive his 25-year-old employee Selvarasu Dhanapal, one of the seven freed.

Mr Ramaiah told The Straits Times that Mr Selvarasu is a model employee who has been with the company for six years, adding that co-workers were shocked that such a "shy and mild-mannered" man could have been embroiled in the melee.

Mr Sellamuthu Elangovan was the only one of the seven to leave court alone without anyone to receive him. On the verge of tears over his release, the 45-year-old who said he works for Sunho Construction added that he was "happy that there is no problem".

Meanwhile, of the 28 Indian nationals still facing charges, 23 were in court yesterday for their alleged role in last Sunday's incident, which was sparked by a fatal traffic accident involving a construction worker from India.

Two of them, Samiyappan Sellathurai, 41, and Sarangan Kumaran, 35, were charged yesterday for being part of an unlawful assembly and for "throwing pieces of concrete" at people.

Deputy Public Prosecutor John Lu applied to remand the other 21 suspects, who were charged last Tuesday, for an additional week, as the police needed more time to "determine the exact role (they) played in the riot".

District Judge Lim Tse Haw agreed given the amount of evidence involved, but asked for police to "expedite investigations".

When the judge allowed suspects to speak through a court interpreter, several claimed to have been assaulted by the police "where there was no camera".

Some also claimed that the charges were "fabrications", maintaining their innocence as they were "not there at the scene".

With regard to the assault allegations, the judge said the court takes such claims seriously, and added that the suspects can make a police report.

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran also said: "If the individuals want to make these allegations, they should make a report and the police will investigate this thoroughly. If anyone is found to have committed an offence in the manner that has been described, then appropriate action will be taken.

"I think at the same time, if anyone makes frivolous comments and allegations, they will also be appropriately dealt with."

The cases against the remaining five suspects will be mentioned in court within this week, while the cases against the 23 will be mentioned next Monday.

The Law Society said yesterday that it has received applications from several of the workers via its Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, adding that pro bono defence counsel will be assigned for successful applicants "as soon as possible".

How the men are being dealt with


The 28 men were allegedly active participants in the Dec 8 riot, committing acts of violence, damaging property, defying police orders or inciting others to do so.

They were among 35 charged in court last week. Yesterday, the charges against seven were withdrawn - four will be warned and could face further action; no further action will be taken against the other three. Two other men remain on bail pending further investigations.


They participated in the riot and failed to disperse despite orders to do so. They will be given a stern warning, repatriated and prohibited from returning to Singapore.

TO BE ADVISED: about 200

They were present at the scene, but have been assessed to be "relatively passive" by not causing obstruction or participating in the riot. They will be issued a formal police advisory. No further action will be taken against them.

Independent expert to reconstruct accident

AN INDEPENDENT expert will be called on to reconstruct the traffic accident that ignited the Little India riot on Dec 8.

This is because the police want to take "special care" in arriving at their findings since the accident sparked the riot, said Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee at a media briefing yesterday.

He added that the accident is "still being actively investigated" and the police have gained good information.

The accident occurred when scaffolding company worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, fell onto the path of the rear tyre of a bus and was run over.

He was apparently drunk, and trying to catch up with the bus after he was asked to disembark.

Mr Ng said the police are "in the process of securing the services of an independent expert on accident reconstruction to analyse the information that we have and to provide us with an additional opinion".

Workers not involved need not worry: Shanmugam
By Robin Chan And Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2013

SAFETY supervisor Gopal Mahendran, 36, stays in the same dormitory as some of the foreign workers due to be repatriated as a result of the Little India riot, and he worries about his future.

Last night, Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam went to Mr Mahendran's dormitory, Terusan Lodge, to reassure workers like him that those not involved in the riot need not worry.

Mr Shanmugam addressed 450 workers at Terusan, where the mood, according to Mr Mahendran, has been sombre. Terusan Lodge was also where Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu, the man killed in the accident that preceded the riot, used to stay.

Last night, Mr Shanmugam assured the workers at the dialogue: "I said on the current evidence, people have been charged, people have been identified for repatriation.

"If you are not involved, barring any new evidence, it is unlikely any action will be taken against you. You don't have to worry, just carry on with your jobs.

"Don't get into trouble in the future, be sensitive, be careful."

He was also asked by reporters about the decision to repatriate 53 workers for their involvement in the riot, even though they were not charged with a crime.

Mr Shanmugam said that under the Immigration Act, the Government has a right, when a determination is made that someone has acted contrary to Singapore's interests or acted in a manner prejudicial to the public security or safety, to ask them to leave.

"They have interviewed about 4,000 over, investigated about 400, and then settled on the 53. So I don't think you can say they chose them on an irrational basis. They had a reason for selecting 53," he said.

Observing that repatriation takes place regularly, he said that if every such case had to go to court and the repatriation decision became judicial rather than administrative, then "every foreigner is entitled to stay here at taxpayers' expense, housed here at taxpayers' expense".

"What we have here works quite well. Foreign workers that come here know they have to behave, and if they don't, they could be sent back. That keeps most of them on the straight and narrow."

Over at Penjuru, Mr Iswaran was asked by reporters about the warnings or advisories issued to 200 workers who were at the scene of the riot. He said it was to put them on notice to abide by Singapore's laws and be on good behaviour if they want to continue working here.

He also had assurances for the 300 workers who attended the dialogue at Penjuru, saying the actions taken against the workers involved in the riot were "fully in accordance with our law, strict, firm and fair".

"They are targeted at those who have committed offences. Those who have not, in any way, flouted our law, may not fear," he said.

One worker at Penjuru asked for the private bus services to Little India to be reinstated. Mr Iswaran said he would look into it.

Last night's visit was Mr Shanmugam's third to a dormitory since the Dec 8 riot in Little India. Last Wednesday, he visited Kranji Lodge 1 to reassure workers.

Ban on alcohol sales in Little India under review
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2013

THE ban on public consumption of alcohol in Little India will continue for now, at least until longer-term measures are worked out by the Committee of Inquiry (COI) looking into the Dec 8 riot.

But the ban on the sale of alcohol by retail outlets, which is hurting many businesses in the area, is being reviewed and the details could be announced as early as today.

This is according to Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S. Iswaran, who was speaking last night during a visit to a foreign workers' dormitory in Jurong.

This past weekend saw the police enforce a ban on both the sale and consumption of alcohol in a 1.1 sq km dry zone in Little India. Bus services ferrying foreign workers to the area were also suspended.

As a result, sales dropped 40 per cent to 60 per cent on average for most merchants. Businesses that rely on selling alcohol, such as bars and provision shops, said they lost up to 90 per cent of their usual weekend takings.

"In terms of the sale (of alcohol), the police are now in discussion with stakeholders to finalise the details and this will be announced shortly," said Mr Iswaran.

He added that longer-term measures would be informed by the COI's findings, as well as an ongoing public consultation on alcohol consumption.

Fewer buses ferrying workers to Little India
The services will also end earlier this Sunday to reduce congestion
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2013

THE number of private buses ferrying workers to Little India will be halved this Sunday, and they will stop operating two hours earlier.

These changes will limit the number of workers travelling to Little India, as the one-week suspension on the 25 private bus services is lifted.

Previously, 250 to 280 buses would ferry about 20,000 to 23,000 workers to Little India every Sunday. The scheduled services ran from 2pm to 11pm.

From this Sunday, they will run from 2pm to 9pm.

The changes are not permanent, Mr Yeo Teck Guan, the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) group director for public transport, said yesterday.

He said: "We want to reduce the congestion that is caused, and reduce the inconvenience that is caused to residents."

The fewer buses will allow the LTA and bus associations to fine- tune the services to reduce traffic congestion, he said.

The LTA is also looking into how to maintain a smooth traffic flow by, among other measures, improving boarding and alighting points and making it more convenient for workers to queue while waiting for buses, Mr Yeo said.

The two bus associations that run the Little India services - the Singapore School Transport Association (SSTA) and the Singapore School and Private Hire Bus Owners' Association - cheered the lifting of the suspension, and hoped the number of buses would be raised over time.

Said the latter's president Neo Tiam Beng: "I had feared they would suspend the services for a few months. Now, I can tell my members we can at least run 50 per cent of the buses."

Still, he expects workers to stay away this Sunday.

"This is a sensitive period. The demand will not be high. They have to regain confidence, which will take time," said Mr Neo.

SSTA chairman Wong Ann Lin said the changes will allow members to earn at least some income.

His association will raise the number of marshals in Little India from four to 10 on Sunday to manage the workers, he said.

Neither association intends to make up for the loss in revenue by raising fares, as the changes are temporary, they noted.

The fares range from $1.50 to $3 for a one-way trip.

Last Sunday, the LTA and operator SBS Transit increased train frequency on the North-East Line that serves Little India from six to five minutes to cater to any spill- over of workers arising from the bus suspension.

Additional trips were also made by public buses that travelled to dormitory areas.

The LTA said it will monitor the public transport situation this Sunday and, where necessary, make appropriate changes to the train and bus schedules.

Meanwhile, major dormitory operators have been encouraged to provide more recreational activities for the foreign workers, said divisional director Kevin Teoh of the Manpower Ministry.

The People's Association will work with grassroots organisations to organise movie screenings at six dormitories this weekend, he said.

He added that his ministry will continue to work with the dormitory operators to line up activities for foreign workers to relax and enjoy themselves on their rest days.

Residents happy, but not some businesses
By Rachel Au-Yong And Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2013

LITTLE India residents have welcomed the continuing ban on public drinking on weekends, while restaurants and coffee shops are looking forward to the resumption of alcohol sales as long as it is consumed on their premises.

But owners of provision stores and alcohol shops were left disappointed by the latest measures announced by the police yesterday. They said business will continue to suffer as their clientele consists mainly of foreign workers who buy and drink on the spot.

In a relaxation of the absolute ban on alcohol sales imposed last weekend after the Dec 8 riot, convenience and liquor shops in Little India will be allowed to sell alcohol between 6am and 8pm on weekends, when foreign workers normally have their days off.

"But if workers are not allowed to drink here, why would they buy?" said shop assistant Balan Kabilan of Moonshine Enterprise at Chander Road, referring to the ban on public drinking.

"Workers only start coming in after 8pm, so those who want to buy also cannot buy."

Mr S Gohulabalan, vice-chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association, said it was "possible some shops won't recover from the ban because they are totally dependent on the sale of alcohol".

Provision shops which also rely on foreign workers for sales said the measures will continue to affect their business negatively.

"You tell foreign workers they still can't drink on the streets - of course they will be scared off," said Sri Sai Mooka Minimart owner Ramesh Kumar. "The only time Singaporeans come in bulk to my shop are during Deepavali and New Year. What am I going to do for the other 363 days?"

Still, the ban on the consumption of alcohol in public areas over a 1.1 sq km area in Little India was given the thumbs up by residents such as businessman Mohamed Neyas, 34, who lives at Rowell Road. "Last weekend was amazing," he said. "If workers want to buy alcohol and drink somewhere else, or buy vegetables, that is fine. But if they make a scene, the drinking affects us residents."

Sharing the same view was civil servant Castral Goh, who has been living in a block at Buffalo Road for more than a decade. She said that last weekend was "clearly safer for residents".

The 28-year-old said: "The only concern I have is how long they can keep up the strong police presence."

The weekend ban on drinking was also lifted from beer houses and restaurants yesterday.

The chief executive of restaurant The Banana Leaf Apolo, Mr C. Sankaranatha, said he expects customers to return with the "softer" rules. "It will take a week more for people to adjust, but we are a brand name, so I am happy business will go back to normal."

Mr Rohit Razdan, manager of Kashmir restaurant, said the lifting of the ban in restaurants "is the best thing that can happen", adding that "customers don't come here to get drunk, but to enjoy food with a glass of wine".

The new rules will be in place on weekends, public holidays and the eve of public holidays for up to six months, until a Committee of Inquiry set up to look into the riot makes its recommendations. They do not apply on weekdays.

Firms have 'vital role in good behaviour of workers'
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 19 Dec 2013

EMPLOYERS have a key role in ensuring that foreign workers behave responsibly while in Singapore, said dormitory operators as they weighed in on how to avoid a repeat of the Dec 8 riot.

Firms which go the extra mile by, for instance, appointing senior workers as dorm leaders or cutting bonuses for the breaking of rules such as drinking alcohol in dorm rooms, will generally face fewer problems, they explained.

Westlite group dormitory manager Bakurdeen A. Majid, who runs three dorms housing 18,000, suggested that employers put more experienced workers in charge of their colleagues at dorms. "The senior workers have the men's respect as they are supervisors. The men also know that if they behave badly, the senior workers will tell their bosses."

Senior workers like 48-year- old Indian national M. Selvaraj, who has been working in Singapore for 13 years, said workers see him as an older brother. He makes it a point to find out how his colleagues are doing when they have dinner together.

"If they have problems, I will give them advice," he said.

Dr Ho Nyok Yong, president of the Singapore Contractors Association, which manages six dorms housing around 20,000 workers, said companies can motivate workers to act more responsibly by rewarding those who show initiative and leadership with promotions and pay rises.

Sing Moh Electrical Engineering director Kenneth Teo, who employs about 160 foreign workers, said workers become role models when they are promoted to kepala (Malay for "head"), which is the construction industry's term for foremen.

"The kepala can keep an eye on other workers outside of work too," he added.

Construction foreman S.P. Rajendran, a 38-year-old worker from India, said he is patient with the 12 workers under his charge at the dorm.

"Workers don't like it if you are fierce. If you talk nicely, everything can be settled," he said.

Companies also need to support the decisions of dorm staff to punish workers for flouting rules. At Westlite, for instance, workers who fight are evicted.

"Generally, the bosses will support our decision to evict the worker and he will likely be repatriated. It is important that dorms and the bosses are firm that rules must be followed," explained Mr Bakurdeen.

Dorm operators also found that workers who keep to the rules often have employers who make the effort to come down for spot checks.

An operator, who asked not to be named as he does not have the permission of the authorities to be interviewed, said he was impressed by a South Korean construction boss who would visit the dorm regularly to meet workers.

Said the dorm operator: "The workers appreciate that their big boss is making the effort to find out how they are doing. In turn, they feel motivated to be disciplined."

Sing Moh's Mr Teo said workers will be kept happy, and in turn be motivated to behave responsibly, if companies make the effort to organise social events for them.

"My managers and I organise a Deepavali party every year for our workers to thank them for the hard work. And we will be at our office until 2am to clean the place and make sure the men have gone to bed before we leave. I think the workers feel happy when their bosses show they care," he said.

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