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‘No place for ragging’: High Court hands more jail time to 2 commanders over SCDF NSF’s death

SINGAPORE — Two Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) commanders were sentenced in the High Court on Monday (April 26) to more jail time, after they had earlier been convicted and sentenced in the State Courts for their roles in the death of a full-time national serviceman.

First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi (left) and Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon received more jail time after the High Court reinstated a more serious charge against them.

First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi (left) and Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon received more jail time after the High Court reinstated a more serious charge against them.

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  • The two commanders are Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon and First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi 
  • They were team leaders of Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, who drowned in a ragging incident in 2018
  • They were initially jailed for 10 weeks each by the State Courts
  • The High Court then sentenced Chong to 11 months in jail and Nazhan to 10 months

 

SINGAPORE — Two Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) commanders were sentenced in the High Court on Monday (April 26) to more jail time, after they had earlier been convicted and sentenced in the State Courts for their roles in the death of a full-time national serviceman (NSF).

In 2018, Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, 22, drowned in a pump well at Tuas View Fire Station after a staff sergeant pushed him in, as part of a ragging ritual.

Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon and First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi were the commanders in charge of Kok’s team.

High Court judge See Kee Oon said the pair had exhibited a “serious dereliction of duty” as National Service (NS) commanders, who are meant to ensure the safety and well-being of men under their care.

Chong, who has already served 10 weeks behind bars since his conviction in the State Courts, was sentenced to 11 months in jail. This means he will serve another eight months and two weeks.

Nazhan was handed 10 months in jail by the High Court, which includes his State Courts sentence of 10 weeks.

Chong chose to serve his jail sentence immediately, while Nazhan will begin serving his time on May 17 after Hari Raya Puasa.

WHAT HAPPENED

Kok’s death on May 13, 2018 was SCDF’s first death from ragging.

Kok, a Singapore permanent resident from Malaysia who could not swim, was taken out of the well after several failed attempts to rescue him. He died three days before his NS was to end.

Chong, 39, was the commander of Rota 3, Kok’s team. Nazhan, 42, was Chong’s deputy.

They were both charged with aiding a group of servicemen to cause grievous hurt to Kok by a rash act, and both contested the charge in the State Courts. 

After the trial, Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun lowered their charges to a negligent act that caused Kok’s death, and put them behind bars for 10 weeks each. 

The prosecution appealed against the reduction of the charges while Nazhan appealed against his conviction and sentence. Chong pleaded guilty and served his jail term.

Last month, during the appeals process, the High Court reinstated the original, more serious charge against both men.

In accepting the prosecution’s appeal, Justice See said that Kok had never been a willing participant in the ragging activity, and that his commanders had consciously chosen not to stop it, ignored the risks or trivialised the potential dangers.

The judge also ruled that Chong and Nazhan knew exactly what the “kolam” (Malay for “well”) activity entailed and would have known that Kok would have been thrown or pushed in, if he had not voluntarily entered the well.

They purportedly did not know if he could swim.

‘EXTREMELY DISQUIETING’

In the High Court on Monday, Deputy Public Prosecutors Kumaresan Gohulabalan and Sheryl Yeo sought at least 12 months’ jail for Chong and Nazhan, saying that their failure to stop the ragging “led to the devastating and premature end to a young man’s life”.

Chong’s lawyer Wee Pan Lee asked for 10 weeks’ jail for his client, while Nazhan’s lawyer Singa Retnam sought a fine of S$6,000 or a few weeks’ jail.

Mr Singa said in mitigation that Nazhan has won multiple awards since joining SCDF in 2004. 

“He has lost everything he has built up over the years and faces hardship to bring up his young children and family,” the lawyer added.

In sentencing them, Justice See said their past contributions to SCDF and good character were not relevant mitigating factors given the context of their offences.

“I have no doubt that they are good men. But when good men in their position as commanders do nothing, resulting in an NSF... dying in a senseless prank that went horribly wrong… This is a real tragedy which easily could have been averted but for their inaction,” he said. 

“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.”

The judge added that the sentences he imposed would be substantial to “drive home the message that there is no place for ragging in NS and in any other institutional context for that matter”.

“Prohibitions against ragging must be enforced and NS commanders must take responsibility to stamp out ragging seriously,” he told the court.

Chong and Nazhan could have been jailed for up to four years or fined up to S$10,000 each, or punished with both.

Related topics

SCDF drowning ragging

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