A year after deadly Indonesian football stampede, victims’ families still seek justice

Eko Widianto
Malang, Indonesia
A year after deadly Indonesian football stampede, victims’ families still seek justice Cholifatul Nur, also known as Mama Ifa, 40, places flowers on the grave of her only child, Jovan Pratama Putra, who was killed in the football stadium stampede tragedy, at the public cemetery in Kasembon Village, Malang Regency, East Java, Indonesia, Sept. 21, 2023.
[Eko Widianto]

Cholifatul Nur knelt before the grave of her son, Jovan Pratama Putra, and placed flowers on it. She sobbed as she recalled how he died a year ago during a stampede at an Indonesian football stadium that killed 135 people.

Jovan, 15, was not even a football fan. He was a junior high school badminton champion who had gone to watch the match with his friends, Nur said. 

“Without Jovan, there’s no one to cheer me up,” Nur, 40, said. “I can’t accept the reality that my son can’t be brought back to life.”

Nur is among many relatives of the victims and survivors who are seeking accountability for the disaster, one of the deadliest in sports history. They have pursued legal action, reported to the National Commission for Human Rights and appealed to higher courts. 

Some have also faced threats and intimidation.

Family members and supporters of the 135 victims who died in a stampede during a football match at the Kanjuruhan Stadium march in Malang, East Java, Indonesia, Aug. 10, 2023. [Aman Rochman/AFP]

The stampede occurred on Oct. 1, 2022, at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, a city in East Java province. About 40,000 fans had packed the stadium to watch Arema FC, the home team, play rival Persebaya Surabaya in a night match.

The trouble began when some fans invaded the pitch after Arema FC lost. Police responded by firing tear gas into the crowd, causing panic and confusion.

Many fans tried to flee through the narrow exit gates, but were crushed or suffocated by the mass of bodies.

A fact-finding team appointed by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo found that the police had used excessive force and fired tear gas indiscriminately. It also blamed poor stadium management, inadequate security and safety measures, and lack of coordination among authorities.

The courts have convicted five people – three police officers, the match organizer and the security coordinator – of criminal negligence and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from one to 2½ years.

Still, many families of the victims and survivors say justice has not been served. They have sued Jokowi, the police, Arema FC and the Indonesian Football Association for negligence and failure to provide adequate security and safety measures at the stadium. 

They have demanded compensation for their losses and suffering, as well as an apology from Jokowi, who had promised to resolve the case swiftly and fairly.

They said they had not received any satisfactory response or resolution from any of the parties involved.

‘Will not watch football until I die’

Devi Athok Yulfitri lost his two daughters and his ex-wife in the stampede. He said he had taken his elder daughter, Natasya Devi Ramadhani, 16, to watch football games since she was a baby, adding she wanted to be a police officer.

“But she died because of the police,” Devi, 44, said. “Now I’m filled with regret.”

He said he has taken legal steps to seek justice for his daughters, including filing a report with police and requesting a second autopsy because he did not trust the first autopsy they had done.

“I was pessimistic from the start,” he said. “It was manipulated.”

Devi and Nur said they had been intimidated and received threats from unknown people, but they didn’t say what they were told. They have been given protection by the witness and victim protection agency and have installed security cameras in their homes.

They said they had narrowly escaped what appeared to be attempts to harm them by people on motorcycles.

“Before that, a neighbor saw someone riding a motorcycle taking pictures of my house,” Nur said.

Devi Athok Yulfitri, 44, displays a photo of his two daughters who perished in the football stadium tragedy last year, at his home in Krebet Senggrong Village, Malang Regency, East Java, Indonesia, Sept. 22, 2023. [Eko Widianto/BenarNews]

The survivors said they would not give up their fight for justice.

“I will not watch football until I die,” Devi said. “It’s useless.”

He and other families of the victims have appealed to the National Commission on Human Rights and the House of Representatives’ legal affairs commission.

“We demand President Jokowi fulfill his promise to solve the Kanjuruhan tragedy case,” Devi said. “Solve it as fairly as possible.”

Imam Hidayat, coordinator of a team of lawyers representing the victims, the Kanjuruhan Tragedy Advocacy Team, said he hoped the National Human Rights Commission would conduct a new investigation and determine it was a gross human rights violation. 

He also called for the formation of an independent team involving the Attorney General’s Office to investigate the case.

“There is a conflict of interest when the investigation is done by the police,” he said.

Survivor Deyangga Sola Gratia, 24, suffered only minor injuries when he escaped from the stampede. He said he suffers from shortness of breath, chest pain and anxiety attacks whenever he faces stress or hears loud noises.

In addition, he has had to take painkillers regularly and has consulted a psychologist because of his trauma.

“I keep remembering what happened last year,” Deyangga said, adding he was unhappy with the courts’ decisions.

“The courts’ rulings are unfair and don’t match the injuries and suffering we have to bear,” he said.


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