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130 killed as police fire tear gas to clear football riot

130 killed as police fire tear gas to clear football riot. Photo Twitter

At least 130 people were killed when fans rioted and police responded by firing tear gas, causing deadly stampedes and crowd crushes, following an Indonesian football match in Malang, East Java province, on Saturday night.

The head of Malang Regency’s Health Office, Wiyanto Wijoyo, said that by 8.32am Sunday, the death toll had reached 130, while 20 other people remained in a critical condition. A member of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), Beka Ulung Hapsara, put the death toll at 153 people.

The chaos erupted at the end of a match that saw Persebaya Surabaya defeat Malang-based club Arema FC by 3–2 at Kanjuruhan Stadium.

Amateur video shows the violence started when hundreds of Arema fans leapt over a fence and rushed onto the field after their team lost. Persebaya players fled the field. Security officers and police sought to repel the fans by beating and kicking them. Officers then went further by firing several cannisters of tear gas, which soon drifted into the stands, causing spectators to panic and stampede toward exits.

 

FIFA guidelines ban the use of tear gas at football matches. The ban is outlined in the FIFA Stadium Safety and Security Regulations, where Article 19 b) reads, “No firearms or ‘crowd control gas’ shall be carried or used.

Police defended their action, saying that Arema fans had acted anarchically by attacking officers, damaging the stadium and trying to attack players and officials. “Because security was taking preventive measures and making diversions so they wouldn’t go onto the field targeting the players,” East Java Police Chief Inspector General Nico Afinta was quoted as saying by detikcom news portal at a press conference on Sunday.

“In taking preventive measures, tear gas was used because it was anarchic, attacking officers, damaging cars,” he said, adding that 34 people died at the stadium, while the rest died in hospital. Video footage from a hospital shows that several of the fatalities were young women.

Police said the death toll included two police officers and 125 Arema supporters, while 180 people were treated in local hospitals for injuries. At least 13 vehicles outside the stadium were reportedly burned or damaged by Arema supporters.

Malang Regency Health Office head Wijoyo said the deaths were caused by “chaos, overcrowding, trampling and suffocation”. He said most of the dead were teenagers and adults, but there are also children among the fatalities

The Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) responded by banning Arema from hosting matches for the remainder of the Liga 1 season for 2022-23. It also suspended the Liga Indonesia Baru 1 competition for one week.

Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali said he would consider banning spectators from matches.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud Md said the stadium has a capacity for 38,000 people, but 42,000 tickets had been printed for Saturday’s match.

A legislator from Gerindra Party, Habiburokhman, criticized the Liga Indonesia Baru for having ignored a recommendation from police to hold the match earlier in the day. He said police had warned organizers of the potential for riots and therefore wanted the game to be played in the afternoon, rather than the evening.

Fellow legislator Gus Muhaimin of the National Awakening Party (PKB) lamented that football had caused people to lose their “sense of humanity”. He urged PSSI to conduct a total evaluation of the organization of football matches to prevent further violence. “Stop our stupidity. There is no football match that is worth a life,” he was quoted as saying by Liputan6.com. He also asked police to investigate the possibility of procedural errors and negligence in their handling of the chaos.

On social media, other politicians and religious figures called for the East Java Police chief to be dismissed over what was deemed an excessive police reaction that worsened the death toll.

Violence and corruption are common in Indonesian football. Indonesia will be hosting the 2023 FIFA Under-20 World Cup football championship from May 20 to June 11, with 24 participating countries.

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