Three police officers and two match officials have gone on trial in Indonesia, charged with negligence over their alleged roles last year in the deaths of 135 people at a football match in East Java.
They each face a maximum prison sentence of five years if convicted over the disaster, one of the world’s worst stadium stampedes.
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The trial, which began on Monday, is being held via teleconference due to security concerns, said court spokesperson Agung Pranata.
The disaster happened last October after police fired tear gas inside the Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang, where fans had run onto the pitch after Arema FC, the home team, lost. There were no supporters from rival Persebaya Surabaya because of previous crowd trouble. Amid the clouds of smoke, panicked people rushed for the exits, some of which were locked.
Police described the pitch invasion as a riot and said two officers were killed, but survivors accused them of overreacting. Videos showed officers using force, kicking and hitting fans with batons, and pushing spectators back into the stands.
An investigation team set up by Indonesian President Joko Widodo amid national outrage over the deaths concluded that the tear gas was the main cause of the crowd surge.
It said police on duty had no knowledge that the use of tear gas was banned as a crowd-control measure at football matches and used it “indiscriminately” on the field, in the stands and outside the stadium, causing more than 42,000 spectators inside the 36,000-seat stadium to rush to escape.
An investigation by the country’s human rights commission also blamed the police use of tear gas.
Lead prosecutor Ari Basuki said the three police officers had given clear instructions to their subordinates to fire tear gas.
“They did not consider the risk factors,” Basuki said. “Their order to fire [tear gas] was a form of negligence and carelessness that built up the risk of a panicked crowd fleeing for exits of the stadium and a crush.”
A lawyer for the match organiser from Arema, one of the officials on trial, said his client denied all charges.
“If there is negligence it should be on the police, who fired the tear gas, not us,” said Sudarman, the lawyer.
Rini Hanifah, whose son died in the stampede and who attended the hearing, said she was disappointed that only five people had been put on trial given the large number of victims.
“I really hope that justice is truly upheld through this trial, for us little people who don’t understand why this could happen,” Hanifah said with tears running down her face.
National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo has removed the police chiefs of East Java province and Malang district and suspended 20 other officers over violations of professional ethics since the tragedy.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo after the incident announced that all league matches would be suspended and that Kanjuruhan stadium would be demolished and rebuilt.
League games have since resumed but without spectators.
The next hearing before the panel of three judges will take place on January 23.
About 140 witnesses are expected to testify in the court hearings, prosecutors said.