How police action in Indonesia led to a stampede in the soccer stadium

More than 100 people were killed after security personnel clashed with fans at a soccer stadium in Indonesia on Oct. 1. (Video: Ahmad Hendra/RCBFM radio, Twitter, Youtube)

A massive barrage of tear gas ammunition fired by Indonesian police at soccer fans prompted the fatal crush in Malang last weekend that left at least 130 people dead, a Washington Post investigation shows.

The firing of at least 40 ammunitions at the crowd within a 10-minute span, in violation of national protocols and international security guidelines for soccer matches, sent fans streaming for the exits. The ammunition included tear gas, flash bangs and flares.

Many fans were either trampled to death or fatally crushed against walls and metal gates because some of the exits were closed, the investigation found. The Indonesian National Police did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The review — based on an examination of more than 100 videos and photographs, interviews with 11 witnesses and analyzes by crowd control experts and civil rights advocates — reveals how the police’s use of tear gas in response to several hundred fans entering the field caused a huge surge at the southern end of Kanjuruhan stadium, where survivors say the bulk of the deaths occurred. Several doors were locked, witnesses said, further fueling the panic. This was confirmed by the country’s president, who ordered a safety review of stadiums in the country.

As of Thursday, officials said 131 people had died, including 40 children. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International Indonesia, say the toll in Indonesia’s Malang regency could be as high as 200.

The Indonesian government has called for an inquiry into the incident, which is among the deadliest crowd disasters ever recorded. Provincial police officials have said their use of tear gas was warranted because “there was anarchy,” but crowd control experts who reviewed a video reconstruction provided by The Post disagreed.

The chief of Malang’s police department and nine other officers were dismissed Wednesday for their role in the disaster. Another 18 officers are also under investigation.

The police response violated the Football Association of Indonesia’s protocols, which state that all matches have to abide by security provisions laid out by FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. FIFA bars “crowd control gas” from being used inside stadiums and mandates that exit gates and emergency exits remain unobstructed at all times.

Videos provided exclusively to The Post show that police, shortly after the game ended, fired at least 40 nonlethal ammunitions at fans either on the field or in the stands. Much of the gas drifted toward seating sections, or “tribunes,” 11, 12 and 13.

Police standing in front of section 13 fired tear gas onto the field and upwards into the stands, prompting thousands of spectators to evacuate their seats, videos show. Bottlenecks formed at the exits, which were only wide enough for one or two people to pass at a time, eyewitnesses said.

Clifford Stott, a professor at Keele University in Britain who studies the policing of sports fans, reviewed videos provided by The Post and said that what happened at Kanjuruhan was a direct result of police action combined with poor stadium management. Along with another crowd control expert and four civil rights advocates, he said the police use of tear gas was disproportionate.

“To fire tear gas into the stands when the gates are locked is likely to lead to nothing else other than the massive amount of fatalities,” he said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

At 9:39 pm on Saturday, the referee blew the final whistle in the game between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya, rival teams in East Java province. The vast majority of spectators were fans of Arema FC, the home team, which had lost to Persebaya for the first time in 23 years. Even Arema players began to leave the field, a few supporters hopped the barrier to approach them.

Fans, some angry about their team losing the game, ran onto the soccer pitch and surrounded the goalkeeper after the match ended. (Video: Source: Ahmad Hendra/RCBFM radio)

By about 9:45 pm, several hundred spectators were on the field.

Two minutes after the players were escorted off the field, security personnel guarding the exit began pushing back the crowd, scattering the fans. Tensions rapidly escalated.

Officers at a soccer game in Indonesia where more than 100 people died on Oct. 1 chased crowds of fans on the pitch and hit them with batons. (Video: Left: Ahmad Hendra/RCBFM radio, Right: Twitter)

Officers in military fatigues started to push fans back towards sections 11, 12 and 13, kicking them and striking them with batons and riot shields. Some spectators fell as they tried to climb over metal barriers and back into the stands.

At about 9:50 pm, the police escalated to tear gas and flash bangs. Smoke caused by flares and gas drifted towards the southern seating sections, videos show.

Spectators in sections 9 and 10 told The Post they coughed and their eyes started tearing almost immediately. In sections 12 and 13, rows of people were almost entirely blanketed by chemicals. Cries from tribune 13 echoed through the stands, witnesses said.

“The gas burned,” recalled Elmiati, 33. She was seated near the exit in section 13 with her husband and 3-year-old son but was separated from them during the chaos. Both of them died of injuries later that night.

“They kept firing into the tribunes… but the people there had no idea what was happening,” said Elmiati, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name. “We weren’t the ones who had run onto the field.”

Fans desperately tried to exit a soccer stadium in Indonesia where more than 100 people died on Oct. 1. (Video: Source: Left: Youtube, Middle: Youtube, Right: Newsflare)

As gas and smoke wafted through sections 12 and 13, many spectators jumped back onto the field to escape it, according to 10 witnesses interviewed by The Post. Others who tried to leave found the exits blocked, prompting them to jump onto the field, too, in search of another way out.

Officers then fired more tear gas towards the southern end of the stadium, some directly into the stands.

Smoke covered stands on the south side of the soccer stadium in Indonesia where more than 100 people died on Oct. 1. (Video: Left: Obtained by The Washington Post, Right: Twitter)

“Everyone panicked. The supporters panicked because they wanted to get out, and the security forces also panicked,” said Ari Bowo Sucipto, a local photographer on the scene. “Both sides panicked … and it became a cycle.”

Ranto Sibarani, a human rights lawyer in Medan, Indonesia, who reviewed video footage, said authorities appeared to be firing nonlethal munitions “sporadically” and without a clear strategy. There were local, national and military forces on the pitch, and it wasn’t clear who was in charge. The result was a massive, uncoordinated use of chemicals, Sibarani said.

Officers deployed nonlethal munitions towards fans at a soccer stadium in Indonesia, where more than 100 people died on Oct. 1. (Video: Ahmad Hendra/RCBFM radio)

Wirya Adiwena, deputy director for Amnesty International Indonesia, said police actions reflected a systemic problem in Indonesian law enforcement. An Amnesty report in 2020 documented 43 incidents of police violence during protests, including videos that show officers using tear gas in narrow spaces and firing water cannons at close range.

“This is not just the responsibility of the people who are swinging the batons,” he said, “but also of the people who have allowed a procedure like this to be implemented time and time again.”

Mohammed Iqbal, a 17-year-old who was seated close to Elmiati in section 13, said he ran when tear gas hit. He headed towards the exit at section 8, but it appeared closed. He returned to section 13, where he slipped and fell down the stairs leading to the exit. Curled up on the ground, he suffered injuries to his arms, legs and stomach.

“I was ready to die there,” said Iqbal, a food vendor. “I thought for certain I’d never make it out.”

Dedi Prasetyo, spokesperson for the national police force, said managing the exits was the responsibility of the game organizers, not the police.

The Football Association of Indonesia acknowledged Tuesday that some of the exits were closed when the police started firing tear gas, but it did not say how many. Stadium workers did not have time to reopen all the gates, said Erwin Tobing, a representative of the association.

But crowd control experts note that by the time the police started firing tear gas, the game had been over for about 11 minutes.

Police investigators, citing their review of surveillance video of six of the 14 gates in the stadium, said Tuesday that the doors were open but too narrow to handle the mass of people exiting.

Photos and videos show some doors around the stadium were bent and warped after the incident.

“I’ve seen video footage of heavy steel gates that have been bent by the pressure. Well, they can only have been bent by the pressure if they were locked shut,” Stott said. The exits that were open were obstructed in some places by people who had fainted or tripped, witnesses said.

Bhaitul Rohman, 27, said he left through the exit in section 3 before going to section 4 to help others who were stuck.

“I saw about 20 people just piled up on top of one another,” he said. “I felt a hand holding my leg and saw a man who couldn’t get out from under the pile of bodies.”

Adi Renaldi in Malang, Indonesia, and Winda Charmila in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.

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