THE last of the 25 men to be dealt with for their roles in a riot in Little India more than a year ago was tried in court yesterday.
Arun Kaliamurthy, a 29-year-old Indian national who has a master’s degree in information systems, is fighting charges that he failed to obey police orders to disperse on the night of the riot.
He is one of only two men to claim trial.
The prosecution believes Arun “knowingly continued in an assembly of five or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace” in the vicinity of Race Course Road and Kerbau Road, despite police commands to leave, on Dec 8, 2013.
But Arun’s lawyer Shashi Nathan charged that his client had been wrongfully arrested, and that he could have been targeted based on racial profiling.
The fracas on the night erupted after a bus accident along Race Course Road killed 33-year-old construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu. This angered the crowd in the vicinity. By the end of the night, 24 emergency vehicles had been damaged or set on fire and 43 enforcement officers injured.
Twenty-five Indian nationals were charged with rioting. Some, including Arun, had their charges amended to failure to disperse and obstruction. All the others have been convicted and sentenced to jail, some with caning.
Beginning the trial yesterday, the prosecution called six witnesses to the stand: five police officers and one of Arun’s housemates. Several officers testified their teams had tried to “flush out” rioters from the vicinity of Race Course Road beginning shortly after 10pm, yelling out commands in the four major languages for people to disperse.
The court was shown a video recorded on Arun’s mobile phone showing burning vehicles and the mob cheering, which the police ascertained had been taken at about 10.50pm near Kerbau Road, an area they had been trying to clear. Commands for the crowd to disperse could be heard clearly.
But in his cross-examination of the witnesses, Mr Nathan accused the police of potentially having focused on Arun, then living in a rented room in Little India while looking for a job, because of his race.
The lawyer pointed out his client was arrested only later and “quite some distance away” from the main area of chaos. “Why was this the case? Was it because he was Indian?”
But Deputy Public Prosecutor Sellakumaran Sellamuthoo objected to that line of questioning. “The issue is… whether or not he failed to disperse from the assembly… when the SOC (Special Operations Command) officers arrived and tried to flush down (the area) at about 10.20pm,” said the DPP. “Whatever happened after that is not the point.”