At least 174 people died in a match between Arema and Persebaya Surabaya in the Indonesian league on Saturday. First witnesses and the Indonesian press implicate police and use of numerous tear gases against a land invasion that caused deadly mass movements.
At least 174 people died this Saturday evening after a game between Arema and Persebaya Surabaya in Malang, Indonesia. When the Indonesian President very early this Sunday requested an investigation into the security of football matches in the country, the testimonies collected on the spot reveal a real chaos between lack of security and tear gas that caused deadly mass movements.
A land invasion and an overwhelmed police force
After Arema’s 3-2 defeat by Persebaya Surabaya, the first against their big rivals in more than twenty years, dozens of fans rushed onto the field of Kanjuruhan Stadium, where Arema is playing. Local authorities gave the figure of 3,000 fans who invaded the field after the final whistle, unhappy with this loss.
In his version of the facts, the Indonesian Security Minister adds that Kanjuruhan Stadium could only hold 38,000 people, but 42,000 people were present on the evening of the tragedy. “The situation had become anarchic. They started attacking the officers, they damaged cars,” said East Java Police Chief Nico Afinta, adding that two police officers were among the dead. Some Arema players were also taken to task.
Tear gas responsible for mass movements
“Not everyone who went to the field was anarchic,” he points out. There are only about 3,000 people who took the field.” Those riots would have forced the police to fire a huge amount of tear gas into the stadium itself. An outrageous effort that Nico Afinta defends by claiming that they were used “because anarchy prevailed”. “They wanted to attack the officers and damage the cars,” he said.
On the other hand, if one believes the witnesses on site, it is precisely these tear gases that caused the large mass movements in the stadium that led to this very high and preliminary figure of 174 deaths. For its part, the Arema Club put forward at least 182 words. In an attempt to flee the police crackdown, fans crowded the field and “made their way to a point at the exit”. “Then there was an accumulation, during the accumulation there was shortness of breath, lack of oxygen,” explains the police chief.
Witnesses accuse the police
Videos on social media show fans climbing over barriers to escape the massive amount of gas, causing a kind of cloud over Kanjuruhan Stadium. Other videos appear to show lifeless bodies on the ground.
“The police threw tear gas and people immediately rushed out, pushing each other and that caused a lot of casualties,” Doni, a 43-year-old viewer who was present that evening, told AFP. “There was nothing, no riots,” he assures. I don’t know what happened, they suddenly sent tear gas,” he said. “What shocked me is that they didn’t think about women and children?”
“If there hadn’t been tear gas, there wouldn’t have been such a riot”
“The tear gas was excessive,” Suci Rahayu, a photographer who was at the stadium, told The Times. “Many people fainted. If it hadn’t been for the tear gas, there wouldn’t have been such a riot,” says the witness to the sad chaos. She also claims that many fans suffered because they were not allowed to bring water into the stadium, which would have helped disperse the tear gas.
Sam Gilang, a survivor who lost three friends crushed by the crowd, told AFP a “terrifying, absolutely shocking” incident: “People pushed each other (…) and many were kicked on the way to the exit.” My goodness eyes burned from the tear gas. Luckily, I managed to climb over a fence and survived.” The police not only fired tear gas at fans entering the field, but also at the stands at Kanjuruhan Stadium, causing panic.
“Inadequate crowd control is the cause of the large number of deaths”
In a statement, the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation said that “excessive use of force through the use of tear gas and improper crowd control are responsible for the large number of deaths.” She said the use of tear gas was banned by FIFA, the governing body of world football.
“The use of tear gas, which did not comply with crowd control procedures, resulted in fans in the stands scrambling for an exit door, causing them to become short of breath, pass out and collide with each other,” the band said.
A championship of rare violence
Violence is an endemic problem in Indonesian football, where 74 people died in middle-ball-related violence between 1994 and 2019, Australian media outlet ABC reports. The local league is even cited as one of the most dangerous leagues in the world in a reporter broadcast by ABC, in particular conjuring up groups of fans trained like armies and ready to kill to defend their club.
Some matches – the most important being the Persija Jakarta-Persib Bandung derby – are so tense that players from top teams have to go there under heavy protection. In 2018, a Persija Jakarta supporter was licked by a crowd of fervent fans of rival Persib Bandung.
Persebaya supporters, however, received stadium bans
Despite Indonesia’s lack of international recognition in sport, hooliganism is rife in the football-obsessed country, where bigotry often ends in violence, like the 2018 death of a Persija Jakarta fan who was killed by a mob of embittered fans of rival Persib Bandung.
As a result of the tense climate, Persebaya supporters have been banned from games, a restriction imposed after clashes between supporters of the two opposing teams in February 2020 that resulted in more than $25,000 in damages. However, this did not stop Arema supporters from throwing rocks at the Persebaya team bus while chaos continued outside the stadium, most notably several charred vehicles.