Indonesian government launches investigation into football match tear gas fired, police chief sacked

Indonesia’s police chief and nine elite officers were sacked on Monday and 18 others are being investigated to determine responsibility for firing tear gas inside a soccer stadium that led to a stampede that killed at least 125 people, officials said.

Stunned family members struggled to make sense of the loss of their loved ones, including 17 children, at the match in Malang, East Java, which was attended only by Arima fans in their hometown. The organizer had banned supporters of the visiting team, Persibaya Surabaya, due to Indonesia’s history of violent football competitions.

Saturday night’s disaster was among the deadliest ever in a sporting event.

On Monday, Arima players and officials laid wreaths in front of the stadium.

“We came here as a team to ask forgiveness from the families affected by this tragedy, those who have lost loved ones or who are still receiving treatment in hospital,” said coach Javier Roca.

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

Witnesses said some of Arima’s 42,000 fans ran to the pitch in anger on Saturday after the team’s 3-2 defeat in their first home loss to Persiebaya in 23 years. Some of them threw bottles and other objects at players and football officials. At least five police cars were shot down and set ablaze outside the stadium.

But most of the deaths occurred when riot police fired tear gas, in an attempt to stop the violence, including in the stands, which led to a catastrophic stampede for fans who fled to the exits. Most of the 125 people who died were run over or suffocated. Among the victims were two police officers.

The Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection said that among the dead were at least 17 children, and seven were receiving treatment in hospitals. Police said 323 people were injured in the stampede and some are still in critical condition.

National Police spokesman Didi Prasetyo said Malang police chief Ferli Hidayat had been sacked along with nine members of an elite mobile police squad. They face the prospect of adjudication in a police ethics trial.

He said that 18 officers responsible for firing tear gas, ranging from mid- to high-ranking, are under investigation.

He said police are questioning witnesses and analyzing video clips from 32 security cameras inside and outside the stadium and nine cellphones belonging to the victims as part of an investigation that will also identify suspected vandals.

The parents and relatives of Fayqut Hikma, 22, wept on Monday when an ambulance arrived at their home with her body wrapped in a white cloth and black blanket. She died while escaping out of No. 12 at Kanjuruhan Stadium.

Dozens of friends traveled with her to watch the match, but Hikma was one of only four who were able to enter the stadium due to ticket sales, her friend Abdel Mokeed said on Monday. He later bought a ticket from a broker after hearing about the chaos inside the stadium in order to search for Hickman.

“I have to find her and save her,” he recalls, bound in thought.

McKidd found Hikma’s body dumped in a building in the stadium complex, with broken ribs and bluish bruises on her face. He learned that a second friend also died from other friends who called him while he was in an ambulance transporting Hikma’s body to the hospital.

“I cannot describe in words how sad I am about the loss of my sister,” said Noor Laila, Hakim’s older brother. “She was just a big fan of Arima who wanted to watch her favorite team play. She shouldn’t die for just that,” she said, wiping her tears.

President Joko Widodo has ordered the Premier League soccer to be suspended until safety is reassessed and security is tightened. The Indonesian Football Association also banned Arima from hosting football matches for the remainder of the season.

Arima FC President Gelang Widya Pramana expressed his grief and deepest apologies to the victims and to the Indonesian people, and said he is ready to take full responsibility for the tragedy at his team’s stadium.

He said that the management, coach and players were shocked and silent.

“I am ready to provide assistance, even though it will not be able to restore the lives of the victims,” ​​Pramana said at a press conference on Monday at Arima headquarters in Malang.

“This incident was beyond expectations and beyond reason…in a match that only our fans watched and not a single fan of our opponents,” he said, crying. “How could that match kill more than 100 people?”

He said Arima Football Club is ready to accept any sanctions from the Indonesian Football Association and the government, “and we hope that this will be a very valuable lesson.”

Security Minister Mohamed Mahfouz said he will lead an investigation to look into violations of the law in the disaster and make recommendations to the president to improve football safety. The investigation will be completed within three weeks.

Mahfouz instructed the leaders of the national police and army to punish the perpetrators of the crimes and actions that led to the stampede.

“The government has urged the National Police to evaluate its security measures,” Mahfouz said in a press conference.

Amnesty International, a rights group, has urged Indonesia to investigate the use of tear gas and ensure that those responsible are brought to a public trial. While FIFA has no control over domestic matches, it has advised against the use of tear gas in football stadiums.

Despite Indonesia’s lack of international fame in the sport, riots are rife in the football-obsessed country where bigotry often ends in violence. Data from Indonesia’s soccer watchdog, Save Our Soccer, showed that 78 people have died in game-related accidents over the past 28 years.

Saturday’s match was among the world’s worst crowd disaster in sports, including the 1996 World Cup qualifiers between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City in which more than 80 people were killed and more than 100 injured. In April 2001, more than 40 people were killed during a soccer match Foot in Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa. In February 2012, 74 people were killed and more than 500 injured after a match between rivals Al-Masry and Al-Ahly when thousands of Al-Masry fans stormed the stadium and attacked the visiting fans. As a result, the Egyptian League was suspended for two years

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