What is the Offence of Rioting?

Last updated on August 23, 2016

The most recent large-scale riot that occurred was the 2013 Little India riot, which involved more than 400 rioters and resulted in more than 50 injuries. While many have the misconception that rioting involves large groups of people, this need not always be the case. For example, 5 men were arrested for suspected involvement in a rioting case near Havelock Road in August 2016. What exactly constitutes “rioting” in Singapore?

While there is no offence of rioting per se, rioters will be charged under offences relating to unlawful assembly. More specifically, any member belonging to an assembly of 5 or more persons which used force or violence to achieve the common purpose of the assembly is said to be guilty of rioting. Such an assembly is known as an “unlawful assembly.”

Common purpose among members of an unlawful assembly

There has to be a common purpose among members of an unlawful assembly. Several types of common purpose are:

  1. To overawe by criminal force, or show of criminal force, the Legislative or Executive Government, or any public servant in the exercise of the lawful power of such public servant;
  2. To resist the execution of any law, or of any legal process;
  3. To commit any offence;
  4. By means of criminal force, or show of criminal force, to any person, to take or obtain possession of any property, or to deprive any person of the enjoyment of a right of way, or the use of water or other incorporeal right of which he is in possession or enjoyment, or to enforce any right or supposed right; or
  5. By means of criminal force, or show of criminal force, to compel any person to do what he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do what he is legally entitled to do.

The five suspects arrested in Havelock Road would have a common purpose classified under (c) which is to assault the victim by beating him up.

An example of a rioting incident involving an unlawful assembly with the common purpose classified under (d) includes the 20 youths arrested in February 2016 who, while fighting, blocked vehicles from entering Sentosa.

Rioting with a deadly weapon

If rioters are found to have used force or violence when armed with a deadly weapon is guilty of a separate charge known as “rioting, armed with a deadly weapon.” Such a deadly weapon (or weapon likely to cause death) could include a knife or even a wooden pole sharpened at the end.

Punishment for rioting

The punishment for rioting is imprisonment of up to 7 years and possibly caning. Former construction worker Arumugam Karthik was sentenced to prison for 33 months and 3 strokes of the cane for his involvement in the Little India riots. He was among the unlawful assembly which overturned police cars and caused damage to a fire engine. Another rioter, Moorthy Kabildev, was sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment after he pled guilty to the charge of rioting. He had, for example, threw a dustbin at the windscreen of a bus at Little India.

The punishment for rioting when armed with a deadly weapon is imprisonment of up to 10 years and possibly caning.

Rioting is an arrestable offence

Rioting is an arrestable offence. 27 people were arrested at the scene of the Little India riot in 2013. Another example involved 7 suspects arrested in Yew Tee in October 2015. They were believed to be involved in the peddling of contraband cigarettes.

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