Anger and despair as Indonesian families mark year since football disaster

Some 135 people died after police fired tear gas into the stands of the Kanjuruhan Stadium.

Flames rise from the Kanjuruhan stadium after some of those attending the vigil set it alight
Some mourners set the stadium on fire as they gathered to mark a year since the disaster [Juni Kriswanto/ AFP]

The Indonesian families of those who died in the Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster in Malang a year ago have marked the anniversary of the tragedy along with hundreds of fans and survivors at a candlelit vigil at the stadium amid renewed calls for justice.

About 300 people travelled by convoy from the centre of Malang to Kanjuruhan Stadium, with some venturing inside for the first time since last year’s disaster when 135 people were killed, including children as young as three years old.

More than 400 people were injured.

Rini Hanifa’s son Agus Rian Syah Pratama Putra before the match. He's standing on the pitch. He looks happy and excited.
Rini Hanifa’s son Agus Rian Syah Pratama Putra pictured before the match [Courtesy of Rini Hanifa]

Rini Hanifa, however, could not bring herself to enter the place where her 20-year-old son, Agus Rian Syah Pratama Putra, had died.

“Some of the victim’s families, including me, couldn’t stand it and some people fainted. I felt as if I couldn’t breathe,” she told Al Jazeera.

The prayer vigil started at 12pm on Sunday and carried on late into the night. The sense of injustice was palpable as parts of the stadium – now in the process of being rebuilt to FIFA specifications – were set alight and flames blazed across the pitch.

For Hanifa, however, the experience of being at Kanjuruhan was overwhelming. She went home early.

“I just stood outside gate 13 and thought about how my child must have felt as he struggled to breathe and couldn’t because of the tear gas,” she said.

“We were all just imagining how our children died in there, screaming for help because their lungs were burning.”

The tragedy occurred when Indonesian police fired tear gas into the stands and onto the pitch after a game between local rivals Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya. Police thought there had been a pitch invasion by Arema fans, some of whom had climbed down onto the field after their team lost to Persebaya for the first time in 23 years.

Persebaya fans had not been allowed to attend the game because of the intense rivalry between the two sides and fears of violence.

Tear gas against civilians

According to an official report by Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), police fired some 45 rounds of tear gas inside the stadium leading to the deaths of supporters in the stands and in a crush at the exits as fans desperately tried to escape.

Under FIFA, the international soccer federation, rules, the use of tear gas is prohibited inside stadiums.

Families sit in their stands as they remember those who died a year ago. They are mostly dressed in black.
Mourners hold a prayer vigil in the stands of the stadium [Courtesy of Rini Hanifa]

Usman Hamid, the head of Amnesty International’s Indonesia office, told Al Jazeera that even now, the Indonesian police appeared not to have reassessed the use of tear gas against civilians.

“What is unfortunate is that, since the Kanjuruhan tragedy, cases of tear gas shooting by police officers at civilians have continued to occur, as happened on Rempang Island on September 7,” he said, referring to protests last month against a China-led development project.

“We urge the authorities that the use of force and tactics by security forces must always be within the legal framework and in accordance with human rights standards. We also urge the authorities to increase transparency, accountability, and the changes needed to protect civil society from excessive and potentially dangerous use of force, including tear gas.”

Following the Kanjuruhan tragedy, two civilians, security officer Suko Sutrisno and match organising committee chairman Abdul Haris, were sentenced to one year and 18 months in prison respectively for negligence, including failing to carry out a proper risk assessment of the stadium.

Wahyu Setyo Pranoto, the chief of operations of the Malang Regency Police and Bambang Sidik Achmadi, the head of the Prevention Unit of the Malang Regency Police, meanwhile, were sentenced to two and two and a half years in prison respectively on appeal. The two men were originally acquitted.

Devi Ahok hangs a banner with his daughter’s photos between the goal posts at the stadium.
Devi Ahok hangs a banner with a photo of his daughters between the goalposts on the pitch [Courtesy of Devi Ahok]

Hasdarmawan, the commander of the Third Mobile Brigade Company of the East Java Police, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison for his role in the incident.

However, many of the families and human rights groups feel justice remains elusive not only because of the comparatively light sentences, but also the failure to prosecute other police officers and match officials further up the chain of command.

Daniel Siagian, the head of the Legal Aid Institute in Malang, told Al Jazeera that the Kanjuruhan Stadium tragedy was a “black mark against human rights and football in Indonesia”.

“This tragedy confirms that the state is ignoring responsibility to resolve this case fairly and with dignity. This incident clearly demonstrated excessive use of force and acts of brutality displayed by the security forces,” he said.

He added that the incident showed Indonesia’s National Police had yet to fully understand and respect fundamental human rights principles.

A father’s grief

Devi Athok, whose daughters, 16-year-old Natasya Debi Ramadhani and 13-year-old Naila Debi Anggraini, died last October, went to the stadium on Sunday afternoon and strung a banner with their faces on it between the goalposts to demand further accountability for their deaths.

He also sat in the spot where their bodies were found in the 13th tribune.

“I felt like I was sitting with them. I cried because I felt how they must have been tormented by the gas after the police fired it,” he said.

He added that he briefly lost consciousness after becoming overwhelmed with grief and the stress of visiting the stadium.

“I sat in the tribune where they had sat for the last time and I apologised to my two girls,” he said.

“I told them: ‘Please forgive me, Daddy couldn’t save you’.”

Source: Al Jazeera