Court jails police official, acquits two in Indonesia stadium disaster probe

A memorial outside Kanjuruhan Stadium for the victims of the October 1 disaster

Featured image credit: ANT channel 1/CC BY 3.0/Edited for size

A police official has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in last year’s stadium disaster in Indonesia, but the acquittal of two others has sparked uproar.

A panel of three judges at Surabaya District Court yesterday (Thursday) gave their rulings on the factors that led to the scenes which left 135 people dead, including 43 children, and a further 580 injured.

The disaster occurred during a stampede at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang on October 1 as Arema FC faced Persebaya Surabaya. The stampede occurred as football fans invaded the pitch before being met with tear gas from police, with the ensuing panic leading to fans rushing towards the stadium’s exits, which caused a crush.

Presiding judge, Abu Achmad Sidqi Amsya, said tear gas fired into the stands under Hasdarmawan’s instruction caused a rush to six exits where many fans were crushed or suffocated and died. Like many Indonesians, Hasdarmawan, who led East Java police’s mobile brigade unit at the time of the tragedy, uses only one name.

He was convicted of criminal negligence causing death and bodily harm, receiving an 18-month prison sentence, below the three years sought by prosecutors. Amsya said: “The defendant failed to predict a situation that was actually quite easy to anticipate. There was an option not to fire (the tear gas) to respond to the supporters’ violence.”

However, fellow police officers Wahyu Setyo Pranoto and Bambang Sidik Achmadi were absolved of charges because it was found there was no direct causal link between their actions and the crowd crush.

Amsya said the court found that Pranoto, the Malang police head of operations, never ordered the use of tear gas at the match and was aware that FIFA, world football’s governing body, advises against its use in stadiums.

Amsya added that tear gas deployment ordered by Achmadi, head of crowd control, was targeted at the centre of the pitch and dissipated in the wind without hitting any spectators. “The defendant has not been proven legally and convincingly guilty,” Amsya said, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Yesterday’s judgements have drawn protests from the victims’ families and rights activists. Isatus Sa’adah, who lost her 16-year-old brother in the stampede, said, according to the AFP news agency: “I am certainly not satisfied and am disappointed. I was hoping they would get a fair sentence… I feel like justice has been shredded.”

Muhammad Rifkiyanto, who lost his 22-year-old cousin, added: “Our family is very disappointed by the judge’s ruling that acquitted the defendants… we were hoping the sentence would be harsher than the prosecutors’ recommendation, not lower.”

Lawyer Imam Hidayat, who represents some of the victims, said the case had been riddled with inconsistencies. He added: “The victims have said they are not satisfied with the verdict. There is no justice for them. This has further proven that this Kanjuruhan case has been manipulated. There were so many inconsistencies. They might as well declare all of them not guilty.”

Amnesty International has also had its say, with Usman Hamid, executive director of its Indonesia office, stating: “The authorities are once again failing to provide justice to victims of excessive force in Indonesia, despite vows in the aftermath of the disaster to hold those responsible to account. Months after a tragedy that shocked the world only a handful of people have been convicted.

“Amnesty Indonesia reiterates its calls to launch a prompt, thorough and independent investigation into the appalling actions of security forces at the stadium, where tear gas was fired into the crowd triggering a stampede at the exits. The families of victims are understandably distraught at the meagre results of the cases, which have fallen far short.

“In Indonesia, there is a deeply entrenched and broad pattern of violence and abuse of power by Indonesian security forces. This tragic case should be a chance to right wrongs and change course, not repeat the same old mistakes. Lack of accountability also sends a dangerous message to members of the security forces who may be reassured that they can operate with a free hand and zero consequences.”

Two football officials were last week handed prison sentences for their role in the stadium disaster. Abdul Haris, chair of the organising committee for Arema FC – home team for October’s match – was sentenced to 18 months in prison. The club’s security chief, Suko Sutrisno, received 12 months.

The trial of another suspect, Akhmad Hadian Lukita, is yet to commence. He leads PT Liga Indonesia Baru, organising body of the top division of domestic football.