Anger against police grew in Indonesia on Monday after at least 125 people were killed in one of football’s deadliest disasters, when officers fired tear gas into a packed stadium, causing a stampede. On Saturday night, 323 people were injured in the Malang tragedy. The incident occurred after Arema FC fans stormed the pitch at the Kanjuruhan stadium following their 3-2 loss to bitter rivals Persebaya Surabaya.
But what could have been the reason behind the tragedy? News18 takes a deep dive into Indonesia’s ‘archaic’ police response, ‘violent’ football culture, and more:
Police responded by launching volleys of tear gas into packed terraces, prompting spectators to rush en masse to small gates where many were trampled or suffocated, according to witnesses.
Police described the incident as a riot in which two officers were killed but survivors accuse them of overreacting and causing the deaths of scores of spectators, including a five-year-old boy.
“One of our messages is for the authorities to investigate this (incident) thoroughly. And we want accountability, who is to blame?" 25-year-old Andika, who declined to give his last name, told AFP. “We want justice for our fallen supporters," he said.
Bubbling Anger Against Authorities
Outside the Kanjuruhan stadium on Sunday evening, people held a vigil beneath the roaring lion statue — the club’s symbol — to honour the victims. But fresh graffiti daubed on the walls of the stadium revealed bubbling anger towards the authorities.
“My siblings were killed. Investigate thoroughly," read one message scrawled on the stadium’s shutters, accompanied by a black ribbon and the date of the tragedy. “ACAB", an acronym for “all cops are bastards", was sprayed on another wall.
In Jakarta, hundreds of football fans gathered outside the country’s biggest stadium in Jakarta late Sunday chanting “murderer! murderer!", singing songs in support of Arema FC and placing police tape on the complex’s fence.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced a probe into the incident, but rights groups said it should be independent and officers should be held accountable for using tear gas in a confined area.
“We call on authorities to conduct a swift, thorough, and independent investigation into the use of tear gas at the stadium and ensure that those who are found to have committed violations are tried in open court," Amnesty International said in a statement.
‘Police Must Stop Using Tear Gas’
Indonesia’s chief security minister Mahfud MD said Sunday the government “will immediately take some measures to investigate if there is a legal violation or crime in the incident."
But the anger gathered pace online, with many posts critical of the police going viral in Indonesia. “Investigate thoroughly. Firing tear gas in a closed space full of humans is a serious violation," read one tweet that was liked 11,000 times.
An online petition titled “The police must stop using tear gas" gathered nearly 6,000 signatures by Monday morning.
The fallout came as more information emerged about the stampede, with Arema FC’s Chilean football coach saying “fans died in the arms of players". “The boys passed by with victims in their arms," Javier Roca told Spanish broadcaster Cadena Ser.
“I think the police overstepped their mark."
‘Disaster Waiting to Happen’
“It was a disaster waiting to happen," James Montague told DW. Montague is a British expert on global fan culture who travelled with Indonesian football fans while researching his 2020 book “1312: Among the Ultras."
Andrin Brändle, a Swiss author who spent a summer with Indonesian club PSS Sleman for his book “A Summer with Sleman," was quoted as saying in the report that “sub-optimal infrastructure," a “lack of coordination between security forces," and a “unbelievable dynamic on the terraces" were to blame.
Violent Culture not Uncommon
Fan violence between rival groups is an enduring problem in Indonesia.
With well-attended matches and competitions featuring heated rivalries and derbies on and off the field, Indonesia has one of the most vibrant and intense fan cultures in Southeast Asia.
In terms of vitriol, the East Java derby between Arema Malang and Persebaya Surabaya is second only to meetings between Persib Bandung and Persija Jakarta — known as Indonesia’s El Clasico — which was scheduled to take place on Sunday but was cancelled due to a late winner for Persebaya away at Arema (3-2).
“This isn’t unusual; it happens all the time," Montague tells DW. “You frequently see fans criticising coaches for poor results."
With inputs from AFP