Indonesian stadium stampede victims’ kin have little hope of justice from trial

Eko Widianto
2023.01.17
Malang, Indonesia
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Indonesian stadium stampede victims’ kin have little hope of justice from trial A police officer stands guard inside a courtroom in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, before the start of the trial against five men on charges of negligence leading to deaths of 135 people inside a football stadium, Jan. 16, 2023.
Trisnadi/AP

Families of victims in last October’s deadly stampede at an Indonesian stadium expressed doubt Tuesday about getting justice because, they complained, the trial of five people charged with criminal negligence over it was not being held transparently.

Victims’ families could not enter the Surabaya district court where the trial began amid high security on Monday, a human rights NGO said. The trial was not being televised live either, unlike most high-profile court proceedings, victims’ kin told BenarNews.

“The trial is in Surabaya; we are not allowed to come,” said Devi Athok Yulfitri, 43, who lost his ex-wife and their two daughters – ages 13 and 16 – in the stampede at the end of a football match at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Java.

Three police officers and two football club officials could each face a maximum prison sentence of five years if found guilty of criminal negligence in the stampede that killed 135 people in one of the world’s worst sports disasters.

On Monday, the defendants watched the courtroom deliberations in their trial via a video link, while lawyers representing them gathered in the courtroom in front of the judges.

“The media are not allowed to broadcast it. Why? Where’s justice? I’m pessimistic about the trial, which seems like an attempt to cover things up,” Devi told BenarNews while visiting the graves of his loved ones at a public cemetery in Malang.

On Oct. 1, 2022, police fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse angry spectators who invaded the pitch at the stadium 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, officials had said.

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 had also contributed to the disaster.

Devi said that if the trial were open to the public “we can monitor it.”

“It was difficult for the victims’ families to enter the courtroom. This is proof that the trial is a sham. This is the face of the Indonesian justice system,” said Devi, who added that he was questioned by police during their investigation.

He called the deaths of his daughters and ex-wife “murder,” saying there were no signs that they were trampled on.

“They were poisoned with tear gas,” he alleged.

Devi Atho (1).jpeg
Devi Athok Yulfitri prays at the graves of his ex-wife and two daughters who were victims of the soccer stampede in October, at the Sukolilo Village Public Cemetery in Malang regency, Indonesia, Jan. 17, 2023. [Eko Widianto/BenarNews]

‘Excessive’ security at trial

Andy Irfan Junaedi, secretary general of the human rights NGO KontraS, described security at the trial as “excessive.” 

Police had deployed more than 1,600 security personnel armed with rifles and riot gear around the courthouse in Surabaya, the capital of East Java province, while barring Aremania, as Arema fans are known, from attending the trial.

“Even the victims’ families could not enter. Who were they protecting and from whom?” Andy told BenarNews. “The trial was closed to the public, and this raised a question:  Is this a real trial or is it a farce?”

Fearing unrest, Malang authorities had requested the trial be moved 80 km (50 miles) to Surabaya, officials said.

The three-judge panel on Monday ordered the hearing to resume on Jan. 23.

Among those on trial are Adjunct Commissioner Hasdarmawan, Arema’s match organizer Abdul Haris and the club’s security coordinator, Suko Sutrisno.

The indictment said Hasdarmawan had ordered his men to fire tear gas without considering the consequences.

His “recklessness” resulted in the death of more than 100 people, the prosecution alleged.

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 said at least 78 people had 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, one of the deadliest disasters in the history of the world’s most popular sport.

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

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