Investigators: Tear gas fired indiscriminately caused deadly Indonesian football stampede

Dandy Koswaraputra and Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Investigators: Tear gas fired indiscriminately caused deadly Indonesian football stampede Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Chairman of the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) Mochamad Iriawan visit the Kanjuruhan Stadium following a stampede during a football match in Malang, East Java province, Indonesia, Oct. 5, 2022.
[Handout Indonesia’s Presidential Palace via Reuters]

Tear gas fired indiscriminately by police was the cause of the Oct. 1 football stadium stampede in Indonesia that killed 132 people in one of the world’s worst sports disasters, an investigative team said Friday.

Previously, police blamed other factors including narrow stadium exits for worsening the tragedy. The fact-finding team said personnel had fired tear gas arbitrarily after about 3,000 spectators angered by the loss of the home team to arch rivals invaded the pitch at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang.

“The deaths and injuries were the result of the stampede after tear gas was fired,” said Mohammad Mahfud MD, chairman of the team and coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.

Police “fired tear gas in an arbitrary manner at the pitch, the stands and outside the stadium,” the report said.

It recommended that all involved be investigated, including police and soldiers who acted “excessively” and the stadium management that failed to ensure all gates were open after the match.

Security personnel were not briefed about a FIFA regulation which bans the use of crowd-control gas in a stadium and failed to abide by police guidelines on the use of force, the report said. FIFA is the organization that governs the sport internationally.

“There is no synchronization between FIFA Stadium Safety and Security Regulations and the national police chief’s guidelines in handling football matches,” the fact-finding team’s report added.

The team, comprising football experts, academics, activists and journalists, was set up by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in response to a public outcry over the tragedy.

Security personnel fired tear gas to disperse spectators who invaded the pitch after a league match between host club Arema FC and rival East Java club Persebaya Surabaya. Smoke from the tear gas sent many of the estimated 40,000 spectators scrambling to the exit gates, causing the stampede.

Many Arema fans said they were not attacking rival fans, as Persebaya supporters were not allowed into the stadium given the fierce rivalry between the two clubs but were venting anger at their own players who lost to Persebaya at home for the first time in 23 years.

Call to resign

The fact-finding team urged the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) board, including Chairman Mochamad Iriawan, to resign in a show of moral responsibility, and recommended an extraordinary congress be held to elect new leadership.

“The government cannot intervene in PSSI, but as a nation that upholds morals, ethics and culture, it is only proper that the chairman of the association and the entire executive committee resign,” the report said.

The government should not issue permits for league matches until “changes are instituted” and PSSI is deemed ready to manage domestic competitions, it said.

Iriawan has ignored calls to resign, insisting that the association was not to blame for the disaster. 

Police previously said they charged six people with criminal negligence in connection with the stampede. They include the president director of PT Liga Indonesia Baru (the company that administers the league), two Arema FC officials and three police officers who allowed or ordered officers to use tear gas.

Each could face up to five years in jail if found guilty. 

In addition, the national police have sacked the police chiefs of East Java province and Malang regency, and suspended nine other officers over suspected violations of professional ethics in connection with the disaster. 

Daniel Alexander Siagian, head of the Malang Legal Aid Institute, called on all those involved to be prosecuted.

“The fact-finding team’s findings strengthen the allegation that a crime was committed in the Kanjuruhan tragedy. Therefore, any investigation must extend to commanding officers and not just stop at personnel on the ground,” Daniel told BenarNews.

Daniel also said the excessive use of force that resulted in more than 100 deaths could amount to a gross human rights violation.

Football is Indonesia’s most popular sport, and matches are often marred by violence, especially among fans of the Surabaya, Jakarta and Bandung clubs.

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

Corruption, match-fixing and feuds within the sport’s national governing body, PSSI, are among scandals that have beset Indonesian football in recent years.

But these, and Indonesia’s perennial underachievement in international competitions beyond Southeast Asia, have not dented fans’ enthusiasm for the sport, with league and the national team’s matches played in packed stadiums.  

In football-mad Indonesia, the sport is closely tied to politics.

In August, association chairman Iriawan said he was ready to run in the 2024 West Java gubernatorial election.

In 2019, then-acting football association chairman Joko Driyono was sentenced to one year and six months in prison in a match-fixing case.


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