SINGAPORE – When Corporal (Cpl) Kok Yuen Chin’s fellow officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) started chanting “kolam, kolam”, the 22-year-old responded with a “scared smile”.
The “kolam” ritual involved an officer being made to climb into the 12m-deep pump well at the Tuas View Fire Station.
Full-time national serviceman Mohamed Rabik Atham Ansari said he knew Cpl Kok well enough to tell the difference between his smiles.
Lance Corporal Mohamed Rabik said he and Cpl Kok were close and often hung out together because there were only three NSFs at the station.
“I know Cpl Kok well, I know his scared smile,” he added.
He was testifying on Wednesday (June 12), on the third day of the trial of Lieutenant (LTA) Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 38, and First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 40.
The officers are facing charges over the death of Cpl Kok who drowned on May 13 last year during a ragging incident in which he was pushed into the fire station’s pump well, also known as the kolam, as part of activities to mark the completion of his national service.
On the night of the incident, Chong was the rota commander and Nazhan, the deputy rota commander.
The commanders were each charged in July last year with aiding a rash act that caused grievous hurt by illegal omission.
They had allegedly failed to prevent a group of officers from making Cpl Kok enter the pump well, thereby endangering his life.
Three more officers were charged for their role in the tragedy, of which two – Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood, 34, and Adighazali Suhaimi, 33 – have been dealt with in court.
The last man Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh, 34, who was charged with abetting a rash act causing death, is expected to go on trial next month.
On Wednesday, Lance Cpl Mohamed Rabik said the “kolam” ritual was brought up during the cake-cutting ceremony to celebrate Cpl Kok’s impending operationally-ready date (ORD).
He noticed his friend was “scared, but smiling” and when the celebrations ended, Cpl Kok “rushed” to leave the room.
In his account of the events that night, the word “kolam” was shouted repeatedly in the control room where most of the officers on duty, including Chong and Nazhan, had gathered for the celebration.
Chong’s defence lawyer Wee Pan Lee asked Lance Cpl Mohamed Rabik to clarify what he meant by shouting and the SCDF officer said the words were said “louder than normal”, but noted many people were talking in the room and there was also noise in the background.
Lance Cpl Mohamed Rabik said four officers, including himself, started carrying a “resisting” Cpl Kok from outside the room and walked towards the well located across the yard.
He said he saw Cpl Kok “wriggling” his body “mildly” while being carried towards the pump well, and interpreted this as resistance.
Mr Wee suggested that it was possible that Chong did not hear anyone mention “kolam” as the room was noisy and that whatever went on in the yard outside the room happened without his client’s involvement.
“(Chong) worked with the men long enough to know he could trust them and not cause harm to each other,” said Mr Wee.
“He also knew that if Cpl Kok did not want to do something, he knew that the men in Rota 3 would not force him to do it, do you accept that?”
Lance Cpl Mohamed Rabik responded: “Yes I accept that, we were all a family.”
Nazhan’s defence lawyer Singa Retnam asked him if he had heard Nazhan telling Cpl Kok during the celebrations: “If anyone ‘kacau’ (bothers) you, tell me”.
Lance Cpl Mohamed Rabik said that while he remembered Cpl Kok standing near Nazhan, he was not aware of such an exchange.
The trial will continue in the afternoon where two investigation officers who took Chong’s statements are expected to take the stand.