A single act of racially aggravated violence wounds the victim, and by extension, the collective interest of society, said a district judge on Friday (May 20) as he sentenced a former security officer to six months’ jail.
Koh Weng Onn, who attacked three madrasah students on April 1 this year, had pleaded guilty to two charges — causing hurt with racial aggravation, as well as committing a rash act causing hurt.
District Judge Mathew Joseph noted that 48-year-old Koh, who suffers from a disorder with delusions of persecution, had made 355 police reports since 2008, many of them against Malay and Indian subjects.
“The racial pattern in these reports poses a risk of the accused getting into similar situations (again),” he said.
According to court documents, Koh started to have a bad impression of Malays several years ago, when he confronted a group for allegedly talking about him, and claimed that they started to hit him until he ran away.
Around 7pm on March 31 this year, Koh was walking towards a coffee shop at East Coast Road when he saw two Malay women cycling towards him. He took a chair and pushed it towards them, sparking a dispute.
A male Malay cyclist, who was behind the women, started having a shoving match with Koh. The police were called, and the parties apologised to each other.
The next day, he was walking towards the MRT station along Paya Lebar Road at around 7.22am, when he passed a 16-year-old student. He suddenly kicked her and swore at her in Hokkien, leaving his victim shocked by the sudden blow.
A minute later, Koh passed a 14-year-old student, and swung a plastic bag containing a filled 1.5-litre bottle towards the side of her face.
As he entered Paya Lebar MRT Station and rode the escalator down, he saw a group of girls riding the escalator in the opposite direction.
Koh waited till all of them, except the last girl, had passed him, before swinging his plastic bag at the 14-year-old’s face.
Koh later defended himself, saying that the sight of the three girls, all students of Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah, reminded him of the encounter with the cyclists, and thus angered him.
Calling for a sentence of six months’ jail, Deputy Public Prosecutor Ang Feng Qian noted that Koh had confessed that he committed the offences because the victims were Malay. He also chose the girls specifically because they were young and female, to reduce the chances of retaliation and reprisal, she added.
Defence lawyer Sunil Sudheesan, who pleaded for a jail term of three months, said Koh’s delusions had contributed to his offences.
Mr Sunil added that the fact that an anonymous entrepreneur from an Arab-Muslim family had stepped forward to seek legal help for Koh and offered to foot his bills showed that Singaporeans are not “short-sighted”.
Mr Sunil said: “They know the difference between someone who is a racist and a bigot, and someone who has (a) mental illness.”
District Judge Joseph noted that Koh’s family had apologised on his behalf previously. “In a world (divided) by sectarian strife, the exhortation to love your neighbour becomes exceedingly crucial. And it’s all the more important for a nation like Singapore,” the judge said.
Koh’s older brother, Mr Muhammad Johan Koh, told TODAY that the family accepted the sentence, adding: “He knew he committed an offence and needs to face the consequences. After serving his sentence, he will resume his treatment at the Institute of Mental Health. We will get the help we need to get him better.”