Indonesia stadium crush: Relatives react with anger and dismay after court acquits senior police officers

Bereaved relatives of those who died in a stadium stampede in Indonesia have reacted with anger and despair after only one policeman was jailed for negligence over crowd control measures.

An October 2022 derby in Malang, East Java, between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya had culminated in the deaths of 135 spectators and 580 injuries after they fled for exits when police fired teargas into the crowd.

Some 43 children were among those who died at Kanjuruhan stadium in what is considered to be one of the world’s worst stadium disasters.

Two police officials charged with negligence leading to the deaths were acquitted by the Surabaya district court on Thursday, while a third officer, identified as Hasdarmawan, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

A panel of three judges absolved police officers Wahyu Setyo Pranoto and Bambang Sidik Achmadi of charges because they found no direct causal link between the defendants’ actions and the deadly crowd crush.

Police claimed Mr Bambang had given the order to use teargas and Mr Wahyu had not acted to stop it. Both had pleaded not guilty.

One of the considerations of the judge acquitting Mr Bambang was that smoke from the teargas was blown by the wind towards the pitch. “It had never reached the stand,” said the judge.

Mr Hasdarmawan was head of East Java police’s mobile brigade unit at the time of the tragedy and was convicted of criminal negligence causing death and bodily harm, concluding a two-month trial in which about 140 witnesses testified.

The lawyer for the three defendants said no decision had been made on whether Mr Hasdarmawan would appeal, while East Java’s prosecutor’s office said it was still reviewing the verdict.

People pray for the victims of riot and stampede at the Kanjuruhan stadium (via REUTERS)
People pray for the victims of riot and stampede at the Kanjuruhan stadium (via REUTERS)

The teargas fired into the stands under Mr Hasdarmawan’s instruction, however, caused a rush to six exits where many fans were crushed or suffocated and died, the judge said.

Relatives of the stampede victims broke into tears after the verdict. Their lawyers said justice has been denied to the families.

Isa Atu Sa’adah, the sister of one of the victims, said the verdicts were too lenient and all those responsible should be punished evenly. “The verdict has torn our sense of justice and humanity,” she said at the court.

Muhammad Rifkiyanto, who lost his 22-year-old cousin, said his family was “very disappointed” by the verdict.

“Many people have died, how come they are now free?” questioned a woman whose teenage son was killed in the crush.

Imam Hidayat, a lawyer who represents some of the victims, said the case was marred by inconsistencies. “The victims have said they are not satisfied with the verdict. There is no justice for them,” the lawyer was quoted as saying by AFP.

Football fans light a flare during a candle light vigil for the victims (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Football fans light a flare during a candle light vigil for the victims (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Cholifatul Noor, a mother whose 15-year-old son Jovan Farellino died in the stadium crush, urged prosecutors to appeal the verdicts.

“This court decision really hurts us, this is another tragedy for us who seek justice for our children,” the emotional mother said. “My beloved son should not die while watching football — What if this happened to their children?”

“I will not stand by this decision, I will keep fighting until all those who are responsible for the deadly stampede at the stadium get the harshest punishment,” she said.

Rights group Amnesty International Indonesia said authorities had again failed to provide justice.

“It sends a dangerous message to members of the security forces who may be reassured they can operate with a free hand and zero consequences,” said its director Usman Hamid.

Earlier, an investigation by Indonesia’s human rights commission found the stadium was over capacity and the main cause of the stampede was police firing 45 rounds of teargas into the crowd.

Fifa has banned the use of teargas as a crowd-control measure in stadiums.