2 Indonesian football officials jailed for deadly stadium stampede

Eko Widianto
Surabaya, Indonesia
2 Indonesian football officials jailed for deadly stadium stampede Suko Sutrisno (front center), a security official, and Abdul Haris (left), a match organizer, for the Arema FC- Persebaya Surabaya game after which a deadly stampede occurred, attend their trial at a courthouse in Surabaya, Indonesia, March 9, 2023.
[Juni Kriswanto/AFP]

An Indonesian court on Thursday sentenced two football officials to prison terms for negligence, which led to one of the world’s worst stadium stampedes that killed 135 people.

The officials were sentenced to 12 to 18 months in prison, far lower than the more than six-year terms sought by the prosecution – sentences that made one victim dub the trial a “farce.”

Abdul Haris, the chief organizer of the Oct. 1 match that ended in the disaster, was sent to prison for 18 months, while Suko Sutrisno, the match’s chief security officer, was given a one-year sentence.

“The defendant Abdul Haris has been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of causing the deaths and severe injuries of others due to his negligence,” said chief judge Abu Achmad Sidqi Amsya at the Surabaya district court.

The judges said Haris and Suko had failed to ensure adequate security and crowd control measures at the stadium. But they also said they considered mitigating factors such as Haris’ proposal to reschedule the match for security reasons that was rejected, and Suko’s initiative to evacuate victims.

The prosecution had requested six-year, eight-month sentences for each defendant.

Meanwhile, three police officers charged with ordering the firing of tear gas that led to the stampede await verdicts.

The chaos at the Oct. 1 match began after police fired tear gas to disperse angry spectators who invaded the pitch at the stadium after hosts Arema FC lost to fierce East Java rival Persebaya Surabaya.

Smoke from the tear gas sent spectators scrambling for the exit gates, causing the stampede, officials had said.

Police said the stadium had a capacity of 40,000, but more than 60,000 tickets were sold.

A fact-finding team set up by Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo found that tear gas fired indiscriminately by police caused the stampede.

Authorities said other factors including narrow stadium gates at the exits contributed to the disaster.

The tragedy sparked public outrage and calls for accountability from football authorities and law enforcement agencies.

‘Why us little people?’

While the victims criticized the sentences as too lenient, one of the defendants indicated the wrong people were being punished.

Devi Athok Yulistri, 43, who lost his two teenage daughters and ex-wife in the disaster, accused the court of cheapening the lives of the victims.

“I have known all along that the trial would be a farce. I knew they would get off lightly,” he told BenarNews.

He said he had feared that the police officers on trial would be acquitted and keep their jobs.

Imam Hidayat, one of the lawyers who represented the victims’ families, said the trial lacked “seriousness.”

“The prosecutors must appeal. Otherwise, it will be more difficult for the victims’ families to obtain justice,” he said.

But Suko, the Oct. 1 match’s security officer, denied any wrongdoing and said he would appeal.

“Why us little people? What about the others?” he told reporters after the verdict was read out. “We want justice.”

The defendants’ lawyer, Eko Hendra Prasetyo, said they should have been acquitted.

“There is no evidence that their actions could have contributed to the deaths of the fans. They helped rescue the victims,” Eko told reporters after the sentencing.

He denied suggestions that the organizers did not prepare evacuation doors.

“There were evacuation doors below Gate F, but supporters couldn’t go there because they were blocked by tear gas,” Eko said.

Football is Indonesia’s most popular sport and league matches are often marred by violence, especially among fans on Java, the country’s most populous island.

Watchdog group Save Our Soccer has said at least 78 people have died during brawls between rival supporters since the Indonesian league in the current form was introduced in 1994.

FIFA, international football’s governing body, said in October it was setting up an office in Indonesia to oversee efforts to transform the country’s football in the wake of the stampede.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said he and Jokowi had agreed to work together to overhaul Indonesian football by improving safety and infrastructure at stadiums.


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