Serious allegations against the police after the tragedy

The Indonesian government has formed a commission of experts to clarify the incidents in the province of East Java. The most pressing question is why the police used tear gas, triggering mass panic.

A woman kneels and weeps in front of Konjuruhan Stadium in Malang.

Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images AsiaPac

Two days after the tragedy in the Indonesian province of East Java, where at least 125 people died and 323 were injured after a soccer match between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya, pressure is mounting on the police. The accusation is that she overreacted and thereby triggered the disaster.

The fans mourn

On Sunday, fans commemorated the dead in front of Konjuruhan Stadium in Malang, where the disaster took place. They gathered in front of the statue of a roaring lion, the symbol of Arema FC. The acronym ACAB had been spray-painted on one wall of the stadium. It stands for the phrase “All Cops Are Bastards”.

Criticism of the police was also voiced on social networks. One post read: “Investigate the incidents thoroughly. Using tear gas in an enclosed space full of people is a serious violation.” Another netizen called on the security forces to stop using tear gas.

After the match between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya, which the home team lost 3-2, thousands of disappointed fans stormed the field. They insulted the players on their team. Objects flew from the ranks onto the field. The outnumbered police officers first beat the fans before using tear gas. In their panic, the crowd fled towards the exits, some of which were said to have been blocked. The lights in the stadium were also turned off. In their panic, the fans fell over each other and trampled themselves to death.

At least 17 children are said to be among the dead. A ten-year-old has a particularly difficult fate to bear. His parents died at the stadium. According to the Indonesian media, the traumatized boy has not spoken since the incident. His grandparents will now have to take care of him.

The police rejected the allegations. She had already described the incidents as riots on Sunday and, according to her own statements, tried to force the fans back into the stands with the use of tear gas. The overreaction could have a reason: before the use of tear gas, two police officers are said to have died.

The government of President Joko Widodo announced on Monday that a commission of experts should clarify the incidents. It will be composed of academics, members of the Indonesian Football Association, analysts, government officials and media representatives. The results should be available in two to three weeks. On this basis, decisions are made on how security in football stadiums can be increased in the future.

“Violent, brutal, cruel”

Football is popular in Indonesia, although the country is a dwarf in world football. In the ranking of the world football association Fifa, it only occupies 155th place. And so far Indonesia has only participated in one football World Cup: 1938 as the Netherlands Indies. The country was then a Dutch colony. The Dutch must have inspired the Indonesians to play football.

However, a violent hooligan scene has developed in the orbit of Indonesian football. The Save our Soccer Facebook page reports that 78 fans have died during soccer games in Indonesia over the past 28 years. The majority of them in Jakarta. A few hundred fans also gathered in front of the capital’s largest stadium on Sunday and chanted “murderer, murderer”. They expressed their displeasure with the Indonesian police, who do not have a good reputation.

But Indonesian football fans are also having to reconsider their behavior after the tragedy. Persebaya Surabaya fans were not allowed into the match in Malang. They have a reputation for being particularly fanatical, violent, brutal and cruel, writes researcher Abdul Bassith Tamami of Surabaya State University. Last year he published a study on the bitter rivalry between football fans in Indonesia.

The Commission has a lot of work to do in the coming days. She first has to clarify why the police in Malang used tear gas, even though the world football association Fifa expressly forbids this in its security guidelines. It is also unclear why 42,000 spectators were in the stadium, even though it only has a capacity for 38,000 fans.

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