'No place for ragging' says High Court as commanders in SCDF case get longer jail terms

SINGAPORE – Two commanders from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), who failed to put a stop to their subordinates’ ragging activities which led to the death of a serviceman in 2018, had their jail terms raised on Monday (April 26).

Former Tuas View Fire Station rota commander Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 40, was handed 11 months’ jail while his deputy, Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 43, was given 10 months’ jail.

Last September, both men were sentenced to 10 weeks’ jail by a district court on reduced charges for being “grossly negligent” in preventing the death of Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, 22.

The full-time national serviceman, who could not swim, drowned after he was pushed into a 12m-deep pump well as part of a ragging activity known as “kolam”.

Earlier this month, High Court judge See Kee Oon allowed an appeal by prosecutors and restored the original, more serious charge, against the two commanders.

He found that the pair was guilty of rash acts as they had full knowledge of the intent of their subordinates but did nothing to enforce the ban against ragging.

In imposing “substantial” sentences on the pair on Monday, Justice See drove home the message that there was no place for ragging in NS or in any other institutional context.

“Prohibitions against ragging must be enforced, and NS commanders must take their responsibilities to stamp out ragging seriously. Most importantly, NS commanders must discharge their duties to ensure the safety of their servicemen vigorously and with full commitment.”

The judge said: “I have no doubt that (Chong and Nazhan) are good men. But when good men in their position as commanders do nothing resulting in a serviceman dying after being ragged in a ‘pointless prank’ which went horribly wrong, this is a real tragedy which could easily have been averted but for their inaction.

“It is extremely disquieting that there are commanders who condone ragging as horseplay, as ‘boys will be boys’ and will have high-spirited moments of jocularity.”

As Chong has served a 10-week jail term, he would need to serve another eight months and two weeks.

Nazhan will start serving his sentence on May 17, after his lawyer sought a deferment as it was the fasting month of Ramadan.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sheryl Yeo had sought at least 12 months’ jail for each man, arguing that they had “recklessly turned a blind eye to the ragging”.

Defence counsel for Chong, Mr Wee Pan Lee, sought 10 weeks’ jail.

Nazhan’s lawyer, Mr Singa Retnam, proposed a $6,000 fine, arguing that his client was not present when Cpl Kok was pushed into the well.

Corporal Kok Yuen Chin died after he was found unconscious inside a pump well at Tuas View Fire Station, on May 13, 2018. PHOTOS: LIANHE WANBAO, SINGAPORE CIVIL DEFENCE FORCE

On May 13, 2018, the men of Rota 3 of the fire station had gathered to mark Cpl Kok’s impending completion of National Service.

Cpl Kok was then carried by four servicemen to the pump well.

Chong shouted at the servicemen not to film what they were doing.

After Nazhan left the scene, Cpl Kok sat on the edge of the pump well while the remaining servicemen goaded him to get in.

One of them, Mohammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood then pushed Cpl Kok into the well.

Cpl Kok failed to surface and was found only after water was pumped out of the well.

Nur Fatwa, who admitted to the fatal push, was jailed for a year and four weeks. Two others also received prison sentences.

Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh was jailed for 13 months for instigating Nur Fatwa.

Adighazali Suhaimi was jailed for a month for deleting footage of the incident from his mobile phone.

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