Singapore teens plead guilty to public nuisance charge after one of them sips juice, returns bottles to shelf

Quek Xuan Zhi (left) and Nigel Pang Yew Ming (right) photographed on April 9, 2020, when they were charged in court with causing public nuisance. — TODAY pic
Quek Xuan Zhi (left) and Nigel Pang Yew Ming (right) photographed on April 9, 2020, when they were charged in court with causing public nuisance. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, July 16 — Two teenagers have pleaded guilty to committing acts of public nuisance, after one of them was filmed drinking fruit juice at a supermarket and returning the bottles to a refrigerated shelf during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The video later went viral. It was accompanied by the caption “how to spread wuhan”, an apparent reference to the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

District Judge Seah Chi-Ling today called for a report to assess if Quek Xuan Zhi, 17, and Nigel Pang Yew Ming, 18, are suitable for probation, a rehabilitative sentence usually offered to offenders under 21.

The pair will be sentenced on Aug 27.

Speaking on behalf of Xuan Zhi today, his lawyer Tan Hee Joek said that the teenager did not mean for the video to be circulated to the wider public, since his Instagram account had been set to private. But a friend of Xuan Zhi’s decided to circulate the video, said Tan.

In response, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Timotheus Koh said that while Xuan Zhi’s account was private, he had a substantial following.

“In so doing, (Xuan Zhi) knew there would be a high likelihood of the post going viral. And it did,” said DPP Koh.

The offence happened on Feb 6, when the pair visited an NTUC FairPrice supermarket at the HomeTeamNS clubhouse in Bukit Batok.

The teenagers stopped by a section displaying refrigerated drinks, where Xuan Zhi filmed Pang taking a sip from two bottles of fruit juice before putting them back on the shelf.

Pang knew that Xuan Zhi would upload the video to his private Instagram account, and told his friend to clarify within the post that Pang had paid for the drinks. Xuan Zhi did so only in a subsequent post.

By then, the original video had gone viral and was uploaded to Twitter, prompting a member of the public to file a police report. This led to the arrests of the young men.

In a statement on Feb 10, NTUC FairPrice noted that the creators of the video had made a public apology and said that they had removed the items from the shelf and paid for them.

Nevertheless, the supermarket chain referred to the video as a “prank video”, saying that the matter was regarded “very seriously” because it had caused unnecessary alarm to the public. This was exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis.

The police said in April that they would not tolerate acts that stoke undue public alarm, especially during this period of heightened sensitivity.

For committing an act of public nuisance with common intention, they could each be jailed up to three months, fined up to S$2,000 or given both penalties. — TODAY

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