Police chief fired, commanders suspended over deadly stampede at Indonesian stadium

Pizaro Gozali Idrus and Dandy Koswaraputra
Police chief fired, commanders suspended over deadly stampede at Indonesian stadium An Arema FC supporter prays for victims of Saturday’s stampede after a football match at the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia, Oct. 3, 2022.
Achmad Ibrahim/AP

Indonesia’s national police fired the Malang regency police chief and suspended nine commanding officers Monday for their alleged roles in a tear gas-fueled stampede in which at least 125 people, including 17 children, were killed at a local football stadium over the weekend.

The government also set up an independent team to investigate the incident in East Java, officials said, while a human rights commission member questioned the police’s use of tear gas when fans invaded the football pitch after their team lost the match.

Malang police chief Ferli Hidayat was replaced and nine commanders of the Mobile Brigade Corps (Brimob) riot police unit were suspended as part of an investigation, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.  

“We are working fast, but we’re working with prudence,” Dedi said during a televised press conference. 

The spokesman said 28 officers were being questioned on suspicion of ethics violations.

Also on Monday, an official at the Ministry for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, said the death toll could change.

“The number could rise as we are still verifying the data,” Nahar, who goes by one name, told Kompas TV.

The pandemonium that broke out at Kanjuruhan Stadium on Saturday night was among the deadliest incidents at a stadium anywhere in the history of sports. It shocked football fans across the globe as 32 nations prepare to compete in the World Cup tournament, which opens next month in Qatar.

On Monday, mourners gathered outside the stadium to pray and light candles for the dead, as people buried loved ones who had died in the chaos of Saturday night.

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Supporters attend a vigil to pay respects to the victims of the riot and stampede after a football match between Arema vs Persebaya, outside the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia, Oct. 3, 2022. [Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

Meanwhile, the government announced the establishment of the joint independent fact-finding team of government officials, football experts, academics and journalists.

“The team is expected to finish its work in two or three weeks,” Mohammad Mahfud MD, coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said after a special meeting to discuss the tragedy.

Mahfud MD said President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had ordered the national police to hold those responsible accountable “in the next few days” and evaluate security procedures.

Indonesian officials suspended matches organized by the country’s top football league, Liga 1, and promised victims free medical treatment along with government aid.

Mahfud MD said match organizers had ignored advice to hold the game earlier in the day and had oversold tickets. He noted that 42,000 tickets had been printed despite the stadium capacity of 38,000.

The incident late Saturday ranks as one of the world’s worst football stadium disasters. Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, the organization that governs the sport internationally, said the football world was “in a state of shock.”

FIFA bans the use of crowd-control gas and firearms at stadiums, raising questions of whether the police action was warranted.

On Sunday, the police chief of East Java province said police were forced to fire tear gas at the crowd to contain a riot. Of 40,000 spectators in the stands, 3,000 rushed onto the pitch, police said.

Rioting spread outside the stadium. Thirteen cars were damaged, including 10 police vehicles, police said.

The tragedy would not have happened had fans followed the rules, said Inspector General Nico Afinta, the East Java police chief.

There is cause and effect. They attacked officers and damaged cars, he said at Malang police headquarters, while expressing regret and condolences over the incident.

Most of the victims died as they crammed the gates of Kanjuruhan Stadium in the city of Malang, after a 3-2 loss by host Arema FC to rival Persebaya Surabaya sparked rioting by some in the home crowd, police said.

Witnesses said fans were venting anger at their own players who had lost to Persebaya at home for the first time in 23 years.

Few Persebaya supporters were in the stadium because authorities had decided that the match should be attended by Arema fans only, given the fierce rivalry between the two clubs.

Indonesia football stampede in Malang_003.JPG
People looking for relatives inspect photographs of football match stampede victims provided by volunteers in Malang, East Java, Indonesia, Oct. 2, 2022. [Dicky Bisinglasi/AP]

Choirul Anam, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights, raised concerns about people’s rights being violated. He noted that videos showed security forces attacking fans. 

“If we look at the videos, had there been no tear gas, probably there wouldn’t have been a commotion,” Choirul told Antara news agency.

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.

Human Rights Watch called for officers responsible for the decision to fire “significant and excessive amounts of tear gas” be held accountable.

“FIFA’s own rules bar use of ‘crowd control gas’ in stadiums by security officials on the edge of the field, which was precisely where the Indonesian police were at the time of the incident,” said Phil Robertson, the watchdog group’s deputy Asia director.

Indonesian National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo speaks as Indonesian Football Association Chairman Mochamad Iriawan listens, during a news conference at the Kanjuruhan Stadium where a riot and stampede took place after a match between Arema and Persebaya Surabaya, in Malang, Indonesia, Oct. 2, 2022. [Willy Kurniawan/Reuters]

Bambang Rukminto, an analyst at the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies (ISESS), said Indonesia does not have professional security officers in the football industry and must rely on police inside stadiums during matches.

“Therefore, there are differences in procedures between FIFA and the national police regarding the use of guns and tear gas in stadiums,” he said.

“The role of the police in an event (football) should be as backup in public areas to maintain public security and safety,” Bambang said, calling for professional security officers to be hired by the nation’s top football clubs.

Indonesia football stampede in Malang_002.JPG
Iwan Junaedi’s children visit his grave after he was killed in the stampede at Kanjuruhan Stadium following a football match between Arema and Persebaya Surabaya in Malang, East Java province, Indonesia, Oct. 3, 2022. [Rizki Dwi Putra/Reuters]

Sport and scandals

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.

“Football is often used to get votes by politicians. It is a shortcut to popularity,” said football pundit Ma’ruf El Rumi.

In August, Indonesian football association chairman Mochamad 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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