Pressure is mounting on the Indonesian police for their management of the crowd during the Kanjuruhan stadium disaster in which at least 125 people, including 32 children, have been killed by an avalanche of spectators.
After fans invaded the pitch on Saturday night, police fired tear gas at the packed Malang Municipality stadium in East Java province, sending fans into a panic. Three witnesses told the newspaper Guardian that the tear gas was not only fired at the fans who had invaded the field but was also launched, without any warning, at the crowd that had remained in the stands.
Large numbers of people scrambled to escape in a deadly rush where many died of suffocation or crushing. Another 323 people were injured, some of them in critical condition, and among those killed are at least 32 children. The youngest was three or four years old, according to an official representative.
“I held on in the stands even when the gas closed my throat,” says a fan who had trouble leaving the stadium because the exit was packed with people. “In my 20 years as [hincha del Arema]I have never been as terrified as that night, “he adds.
The FIFA Safety Guide It establishes that police officers and ushers cannot carry or use “crowd control gases” inside soccer stadiums.
Indonesian Chief Security Minister Mahfud MD said on Monday that an independent investigation team would be formed to investigate the disaster. Separately, national police spokesman Dedy Prasetyo said that 18 officers responsible for firing tear gas, mid and high-ranking officers were being investigated, as well as “internal issues related to security management”. Prasetyo said they are questioning witnesses and examining mobile phone and security camera recordings.
Rights experts have demanded that any possible inquiry be completely impartial.
Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia, Phil Robertson, has asked the president, Joko Widodo, for an independent investigation with a public report of the results. “All those responsible must be held accountable for this disaster, regardless of their status or position. It is not enough for the national police and the Indonesian Football Association to do their own investigation, because they may be tempted to play down the responsibility of the officials involved,” he has said.
According to Robertson, FIFA should also carry out its own investigation and publish its findings. Amnesty International’s Executive Director in Indonesia, Said Usman Hamid, has said there was “excessive force” and has also called for an investigation.
During a press conference on Sunday, East Java Police Chief Nico Afinta defended his men’s reaction. He said that before the tear gas they had taken other measures, but that the fans “began to attack the police, acting in an anarchic way and burning vehicles.”
This Sunday night a vigil was held outside the Kanjuruhan stadium to honor the victims. In the graffiti painted on the walls of the stadium, one could read a deep rage towards the authorities. According to the AFP news agency, a message scrawled on the shutters of the stadium read: “My brothers were killed, investigate thoroughly.” To the side, the date of the tragedy and a black ribbon. Painted on another wall was “ACAB,” an acronym for the English phrase “all cops are bastards.”
Funerals were also held for the victims. “My family and I didn’t think it would end like this,” Endah Wahyuni told the Reuters news agency. His two younger brothers, Ahmad Cahyo, 15, and Muhammad Farel, 14, were among those killed. “They loved football, but they had never seen Arema live at Kanjuruhan Stadium. This was his first time,” he said.
Images from inside the stadium circulating on social media show chaotic scenes of fans climbing to escape massive amounts of tear gas as some spectators tried to carry injured people to safety.
Only fans of Arema, the local team, were able to enter the stadium to watch the game this Saturday night. To prevent violence between supporters, fans of the opposing team, Persebaya Surabaya (which won), had been banned from entering as a precaution.
Players with dead in their arms
The problem of violence in Indonesian football goes back a long way, fueled by the intense rivalry between the teams. But none of the previous incidents had been anywhere near as deadly as Saturday’s tragedy, one of the worst sports stadium disasters in the world.
“Dark day for everyone involved in football and an incomprehensible tragedy,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said. Soccer teams from around the world have sent their condolences, including Manchester United and Barcelona. The real Madrid observed a minute of silence during his match this Sunday.
The Chilean Javier Roca, coach of Arema, said on Sunday that the fans had “died in the arms of the players”, since a part of the team had stayed on the field at the end of the game. “Coming back from the press conference, I saw the tragedy,” he said. “The boys passed by with victims in their arms (…) I think the police exceeded their limits, although I was not there and I did not experience the outcome,” he told Cadena Ser.
Indonesian Football Association Secretary General Yunus Yussi said the body was talking to FIFA about the tragedy and hoped to avoid sanctions. Between May 20 and June 11, Indonesia will host the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup, with 24 participating teams. As the host country, your team automatically qualifies for the cup.
Mahfud said the working group investigating the incident will include government representatives, analysts, ministry representatives, football officials, academics and members of the media. His goal is to complete his work in two to three weeks, he said.
Translation of Francisco de Zarate