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Little India riot: Heated exchange witnessed during trial

PTI 29 Apr 2015, 10:19:00 AM IST

Singapore: The trial of the last Indian national, out of the 25 accused from the country in the December 2013 riot case here, witnessed heated exchange of words, with the defence counsel accusing a police officer of lying on the stand.

Trial of 29-year-old Arun Kaliamurthy in the December 8 incident, country's worst street violence in 40 years, began Monday. The riot was sparked by a fatal accident involving an Indian national and a local bus.

Arun was originally charged for rioting but this has been amended to failure to disperse when commanded by police.  His lawyer Shashi Nathan asked Station Inspector of police, Adrian Aw, about Arun's arrest during a cross-examination yesterday and accused the police of being “untruthful”, The Straits Times today reported.  Court documents indicate the arrest took place at a restaurant in Kampong Kapor Road, within the riot vicinity, at about 2 am just past the Sunday night riot.  

The officer told the court that he checked Arun's identity at the restaurant, but Nathan claimed the accused was “not carrying” any identification documents that night.  After asking about further details, some of which Stations Inspector Aw could not recall, Nathan said: “The way you vacillate in your evidence is very alarming.” The lawyer told the court his client's version of events leading to the arrest.

According to Arun, Aw accused him of being a “gangster” involved in the riot after seeing his tattooed arm.  Arun has claimed the officer made insensitive remarks based on his race. Then, the officer or his colleague used “unreasonable force”.

Station Inspector Aw, however, denied the allegations, and Deputy Public Prosecutor Sellakumaran Sellamuthoo objected to the relevance of Nathan's questioning.  The DPP said the charge was about Arun failing to leave the vicinity of Race Course Road and Kerbau Road, despite being lawfully commanded to disperse earlier in the night, and the details Nathan was pursuing had “no bearing” on the case.  Nathan said he was trying to test the veracity of the officer's testimony. But District Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan said trying to show “improper police conduct” would not impact the dispersal charge.

“I'm not saying it doesn't matter if the police were brutal or not, but it is not relevant to the charge,” the Judge said, disallowing Nathan from asking similar questions.  The trial was adjourned after the prosecution acknowledged no effort was made to bring a key witness to the trial. 

The witness, a friend of Arun's, who was with him on the night of the riot, has returned to India after being convicted of assaulting a police officer. The trial is expected to continue today, depending on the availability of witness.  The riot took place amidst a crowd of some 400 South Asian migrant workers following the fatal accident in Little India, a precinct of Indian-origin eateries, pubs, hotels and shops.