04 October 2022

Indonesia police chief and nine senior officers removed over football disaster

04 October 2022

An Indonesian police chief and nine elite officers were removed from their posts on Monday after 125 people were killed at a football stadium.

Officials said an additional 18 others were being investigated for responsibility in the firing of tear gas which set off the deadly stampede.

Distraught family members were struggling to comprehend the loss of their loved ones, including 17 children, at the match in East Java’s Malang city that was attended only by hometown Arema FC fans.

The organiser had banned supporters of the visiting team, Persebaya Surabaya, because of Indonesia’s history of violent football rivalries.

The disaster on Saturday night was among the deadliest ever at a sporting event.

National Police spokesperson Dedy Prasetyo said Malang police chief Ferli Hidayat had been removed along with nine members of an elite police mobile brigade. They face possible dismissal in a police ethics trial.

He said 18 officers, ranging from middle- to high-ranking, responsible for firing the tear gas were being investigated.

Police are questioning witnesses and analysing video from 32 security cameras inside and outside the stadium and nine mobile phones owned by the victims as part of an investigation that will also identify suspected vandals, he said.

On Monday night, about a thousand football fans dressed in black shirts held a candlelight vigil at a stadium in Jakarta’s satellite city of Bekasi to pray for the victims of the disaster.

Witnesses said some of the 42,000 Arema fans ran onto the pitch in anger on Saturday after the team was defeated 3-2, its first loss at home against Persebaya in 23 years. Some threw bottles and other objects at players and football officials. At least five police vehicles were toppled and set ablaze outside the stadium.

But most of the deaths occurred when riot police, trying to stop the violence, fired tear gas, including in the stands, triggering a disastrous stampede of fans making a panicked, chaotic run for the exits. Most of the 125 people who died were trampled or suffocated. The victims included two police officers.

At least 17 children were among the dead and seven were being treated in hospitals, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection said. Police said 323 people were injured in the crush, with some still in critical condition.

President Joko Widodo ordered the country’s football premier league suspended until safety is re-evaluated and security tightened. Indonesia’s football association also banned Arema from hosting matches for the rest of the season.

Security Minister Mohammad Mahfud said he will lead an inquiry that will examine law violations in the disaster and provide recommendations to the president to improve football safety. The investigation is to be completed in three weeks.

Mr Mahfud instructed the national police and military chiefs to punish those who committed crimes and actions that triggered the stampede.

Rights group Amnesty International urged Indonesia to investigate the use of tear gas and ensure that those found responsible are tried in open court. While Fifa has no control over domestic games, it has advised against the use of tear gas at football stadiums.

Despite Indonesia’s lack of international prominence in the sport, hooliganism is rife in the football-obsessed country where fanaticism often ends in violence. Data from Indonesia’s football watchdog, Save Our Soccer, showed 78 people have died in game-related incidents over the past 28 years.

Saturday’s game was among the world’s worst crowd disasters in sports, including a 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City in which over 80 died and more than 100 were injured.

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