Penalties for Unlawful Assembly and Rioting in Singapore

Last updated on April 6, 2020

man attacking with molotov cocktail

In the aftermath of the 2013 Little India riot, 25 men were charged with rioting and unlawful assembly, among other charges. While many have the misconception that rioting and unlawful assembly involves large groups of people, this need not always be the case.

For example, just 5 men were arrested for suspected involvement in a rioting case near Havelock Road in August 2016.

This article will cover what constitutes the offences of unlawful assembly and rioting (and related offences such as affray), their penalties and the next steps you can take if you have been charged with such offences.

What is an Unlawful Assembly?

An unlawful assembly is defined in section 141 of the Penal Code as an assembly of 5 or more persons with one of the common purposes as stated below:

  • To overawe by criminal force, or by show of criminal force, to the Government or any public servant exercising their lawful power;
  • To resist the execution of any law, or of any legal process;
  • To commit any offence;
  • By using criminal force towards any person, to take possession of property, or to deprive any person of the enjoyment of his right of way, incorporeal rights or his possessions; or
  • By using 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.

You may have heard of the rumour that any gathering of more than 2 people after 10pm in Singapore is illegal. This is not true as the gathering must have at least 5 persons, and it is only considered unlawful when the group shares at least one of the common intentions stated above.

Penalties for Unlawful Assembly

If found to be a member of an unlawful assembly, you will be jailed for up to 2 years, and/or fined.

For example, 26 youth residents of the Singapore Boys’ Home were charged with being part of an unlawful assembly in September 2016. They had the common intention to commit the offence of vandalism by damaging bed frames and smashing fluorescent lamps belonging to the home.

Further, on December 2016, Ng Bing Hui was jailed for 10 weeks after he pleaded guilty to being part of an unlawful assembly of up to 100 people. The group had the common intention of intimidating police officers, who are public servants, into not carrying out their duties.

The penalties are more serious if the offender had joined or continued in the unlawful assembly:

  • Despite knowing that it has been commanded to disperse. In this case, the offender will be jailed for up to 5 years, and/or fined; or
  • While being armed with a deadly weapon. If so, the offender will be jailed up to 5 years, fined or caned (or given any combination of these punishments).

What is Rioting?

Rioting is an aggravated form of unlawful assembly as force or violence must have been used.

According to section 146 of the Penal Code, rioting is committed whenever force or violence is used by an unlawful assembly, or by any member of the unlawful assembly. Every member of the assembly will then be found guilty for rioting.

Penalties for Rioting

If found guilty for rioting, you will be jailed for up to 7 years, and caned.

However, if found guilty of rioting armed with a deadly weapon or anything likely to cause death, you will be jailed for up to 10 years and caned.

On 29 February 2020, 13 men were charged with rioting with deadly weapons which included knives, knuckle dusters and metal rods.

Related Offences

What is affray?

If violence is committed in public, although less than 5 people are involved, you may be liable for committing an affray. According to section 267A of the Penal Code, an affray is committed where 2 or more persons fight in a public place, resulting in the disturbance of public peace.

If found guilty for committing an affray, you will be jailed for up to 1 year, and/or be fined up to $5,000.

Other offences

Further, if found guilty of assaulting or obstructing, threatening to assault or obstruct a public servant who is attempting to disperse an unlawful assembly or suppress a riot or an affray, you will be jailed for up to 8 years, and/or fined.

Are Unlawful Assembly and Rioting Arrestable Offences? 

Unlawful assemblies and rioting are arrestable offences. An arrestable offence is one where the police can arrest a suspect without a warrant.

Once the suspects have been arrested, it is up to the police or the court to decide whether to release them on bail.

How will Offenders be Sentenced for Unlawful Assembly and Rioting? 

Sentencing framework

The basic approach taken by the courts has been that once convicted of a rioting charge, rioters would be liable for the actions of his fellow rioters and be sentenced as a group. The rationale behind this approach is rioting is a collective offence as rioters share the common object of an unlawful assembly and do not commit their acts in isolation.

Generally, the Singapore courts have consistently imposed sentences of 18 to 26 months’ jail, and caning ranging from 2 to 12 strokes for unlawful assembly offences.

Factors that the court will consider during sentencing 

In considering the sentence, the judge may consider the following factors which could either increase or reduce the sentence:

  • Scale and location of the riot
  • Level of violence involved
  • Extent of the victim’s injuries (if any)
  • Use of any weapons
  • Whether the riot was premeditated
  • Whether the offender had abused any position of authority in committing the offence

For example, Diki Zulkarnaini participated in a riot with deadly weapons (the rioters he was with carried wooden poles) in the Accident and Emergency Department of a hospital, which was considered a protective place for the sick and wounded. Such factors, among others, were considered aggravating factors which resulted in him receiving a higher sentence of  42 months’ imprisonment and 9 strokes of the cane.

Will Unlawful Assembly and Rioting Result in a Criminal Record? 

If you are convicted of unlawful assembly and/or rioting, you may or may not have a criminal record. This depends on whether the Commissioner of Police chooses to exercise his discretion to not register your criminal record.

Generally, the Commissioner of Police may choose to exercise his discretion to not register your criminal record if you:

  • Are sentenced to a fine not exceeding $1,000 and not to jail unless such jail term  is in default of payment of the fine; and
  • Have not been previously registered as a criminal

For the offence of unlawful assembly however, even if your criminal record has been registered, you might still have the opportunity to have your criminal record treated as spent after a certain period of time. This simply means that your record will be wiped clean.

If you have been convicted of rioting, any criminal record registered in respect of the rioting offence cannot be treated as spent.

To qualify for having your record spent, you must first meet the following criteria:

  • If you were given a prison sentence, your jail term must have been not more than 3 months;
  • If you were given a fine, the fine imposed on you must have been not more than $2,000;
  • You must not have any other conviction on your criminal record; and
  • You must not have any previous spent record on the register.

Once these criteria have been met, you have to remain crime-free for at least 5 consecutive years, starting from the date of your release from prison, or from the date that your sentence was passed if you were given a fine.

Once you accomplish this, your record will be spent automatically, and you will be able to legally declare that you do not have a criminal record.

If you have been charged with unlawful assembly, rioting or similar offences, you may want to discuss your options with a criminal lawyer, who will be able to better advise you on whether you should claim trial or plead guilty.

While it is possible for you to represent yourself, there are many procedures, documents and legal principles that you must be familiar with should your case go to trial.

Additionally, even prior to the hearing of your case in court, a lawyer can help you apply for bail, and/or submit representations to the prosecution to either reduce your charges or have them dropped altogether.

You can get in touch with experienced criminal lawyers here.

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