Singapore prosecutors will charge 24 Indian workers for taking part in the city-state’s first riot in more than 40 years, police said on Tuesday.
The men face jail terms of up to 10 years plus caning for charges of rioting with dangerous weapons in the hour-long fracas on Sunday night, triggered when an Indian construction worker was struck and killed by a private bus in the Little India district.
They were among 400 people involved in the rampage that saw 39 police and civil defence staff injured, and 25 vehicles — including 16 police cars — damaged or torched.
Two Bangladeshis, an Indian national and a Singapore permanent resident initially arrested were released after investigations showed they were not involved in the riot, police said.
The 55-year-old Singaporean bus driver who killed construction worker Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, has been released on bail after being arrested for causing death by a negligent act, police said.
Meanwhile, national hand wringing over the incident, Singapore’s first riot since racial disturbances in 1969, continued with authorities calling for calm and warning against stoking racial hatred amid online attacks against foreign workers in the city-state.
The Southeast Asian nation of 5.4 million people is one of the wealthiest places in the world but depends heavily on guest workers, with labourers from South Asia dominating sectors like construction.
“The riot was an isolated incident arising from the unlawful actions of an unruly mob reacting to a fatal traffic accident,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a statement on Monday.
“We must not allow this bad incident to tarnish our views of the foreign worker community here.”
Lee also ordered the formation of a special committee to be convened by the interior ministry to review the factors that led to the riot, as well as existing measures to manage areas where foreign workers congregate.
S Iswaran, the city-state’s second minister for the interior, said there would be a ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol in the area where the riot broke out this weekend, amid signs that “alcohol consumption was a contributory factor”.
Bloggers and civil activists urged authorities to investigate whether the violence on Sunday was an indication of wider discontent among poorly paid migrant workers, many of whom also put up with poor living conditions in dormitories.
Veteran activist and blogger Alex Au said such grievances lower the threshold for the escalation of incidents like Sunday’s riot.
“If these factors go unaddressed, the threshold for escalation remains low. The smallest incident gets to a tipping point quite easily,” he wrote in a blog post.