An Indonesian court on Thursday acquitted two police officers accused of negligence that led to the deaths of 135 people in October when police fired tear gas into a stadium, setting off a panicked march to the exits. A third employee was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
The Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster in the East Javanese city of Malang was one of the world’s worst sporting tragedies. Among the dead were about 43 children and about 580 spectators were injured.
A three-judge panel at the Surabaya District Court, which was under heavy police guard, acquitted officers Pranotto and Ahmadi of the charges because they found no direct causal link between the defendants’ actions and the deadly crowd crash. The two were released on Thursday.
Presiding judge Abu Achmad Sidqi Amsya said the court found that the accused Wahyu Setyo Pranoto, the Malang police chief of operations, never ordered the use of tear gas at the match and knew that international football authority FIFA had advised against its use in pitches.
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Amsya said the tear gas ordered by accused crowd control chief Bambang Sidik Achmadi was aimed at the center of the stadium and scattered in the air without hitting any spectators.
“The accused has not been legally and convincingly proved guilty,” Amsya said.
He ordered the release of the two defendants immediately after the verdict.
However, tear gas fired into the stands under Hasdarmawan’s instructions caused a stampede in six exits where many fans were crushed or suffocated to death, Amsya said.
Like many Indonesians, Hasdarmawan only uses one name.
The court convicted Hasdarmawan, who was the head of the East Java Police Mobile Unit at the time of the tragedy, of criminal negligence causing death and bodily harm, concluding a two-month trial in which about 140 witnesses testified. Hasdarmawan was sentenced to 18 months – far less than the three years prosecutors had sought. He said he is considering appealing the decision.
Prosecutors said they are considering appealing the cases of all three defendants. An appeal must be lodged within seven days.
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Authorities in Surabaya, the capital of East Java province, deployed 350 police officers to secure the court for its ruling on Thursday. Arema fans, popularly known as “Aremania”, were banned from coming to Surabaya during the trial to avoid any clashes.
Abdul Haris, who chairs the organizing committee for Arema FC – the team that hosted the match – was sentenced on March 9 to 18 months in prison. The club’s head of security, Suko Sutrisno, got 12 months. Surabaya District Court judges said the two defendants had not verified the stadium’s security since 2020 and did not prepare a contingency plan to handle special cases in accordance with the Indonesian Football Association’s safety and security regulations for 2021.
The trial of another suspect, Akhmad Hadian Lukita, is still pending. He heads PT Liga Indonesia Baru, which runs the country’s top professional football division.
Police had described the stadium invasion as a riot and said two officers were killed, but witnesses accused them of overreacting. Videos showed police officers kicking and hitting fans with batons and violently pushing spectators back into the stands.
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National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo removed the police chiefs of East Java Province and Malang District and suspended another 20 officers after the tragedy for violations of professional ethics.
An inquiry organized by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in response to a national outcry over the deaths concluded that tear gas was the main cause of the crowd outcry. It said police did not know that the use of tear gas is banned at football stadiums and used it “indiscriminately” on the field, in the stands and outside the stadium, causing the more than 42,000 spectators inside the 36,000-seat stadium to rush to the exits — several from which they were locked.
Widodo’s investigative team also concluded that national football federation PSSI was negligent and ignored safety and security regulations. The chairman and executive committee were replaced last month and are now led by Erick Thohir, the former owner and chairman of Italian soccer giant Inter Milan and American soccer team DC United, who has served as Indonesia’s State Enterprise Minister since 2019.