Police justify ‘last resort’ tear gas use in deadly Kanjuruhan soccer riot

Arema fans flooding the pitch after their team lost to arch rivals Persebaya on Oct. 1, 2022. Photo: Video screengrab
Arema fans flooding the pitch after their team lost to arch rivals Persebaya on Oct. 1, 2022. Photo: Video screengrab

Update: East Java Vice Governor Emil Dardak on Sunday afternoon said the Kanjuruhan death toll has risen to 174. The number was later revised down by the National Police to 125, citing a miscount.

The East Java Police says firing tear gas was necessary to regain control of an escalating riot in Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, where at least 125 people were killed in the deadliest soccer match in Indonesia’s history.

Related — At least 127 dead, 180 wounded in mass riot at Arema VS Persebaya soccer match

East Java Police Chief Inspector General Nico Afinta announced the police’s timeline of the tragedy in a press conference this morning. He confirmed that the riot was triggered by host team Arema FC losing 2-3 to arch rivals Persebaya.

“The home fans were disappointed that Arema had lost. Especially because Arema hadn’t lost at home to Persebaya in the past few years,” Nico said.

The police chief added that Arema fans stormed the pitch to voice their discontent towards players and club officials. Of the 42,000 in attendance, some 3,000 fans leapt onto the pitch.

Nico said police officers at the stadium tried to prevent the pitch invasion, but were overwhelmed by the scale of the riot.

“Preventive measures were carried out, until eventually tear gas was fired. This is because [the crowd] had begun attacking officers and police cars,” he said.

The tear gas caused panic among the crowd, who stampeded towards two open exit gates. Victims were reportedly trampled and suffocated amid the chaos, leading to the high casualty count.

The game’s world governing body, FIFA, bans the use of “crowd control gas” as stated in its stadium safety and security regulations.

Police initially said Sunday morning that 127 were killed, 34 of whom died in the stadium. Two of the deceased were cops, while there were reports that children were among the casualties. In the afternoon, East Java Vice Governor Emil Dardak updated the death toll to 174, before police later revised the figure down to 125, citing a miscount.

Some 180 people were wounded and are receiving intensive treatments at various hospitals.

Indonesia’s Coordinating Legal, Political, and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD blasted the match organizers for issuing 42,000 tickets to a 38,000-capacity stadium. The senior minister also said that organizers ignored officials’ advice to hold the match in the afternoon for easier crowd management.

The match kicked off at 8pm while the final whistle blew at 10pm.

Arema’s match organizing committee says it is currently focused on aiding victims and has yet to issue any statements regarding their possible culpability for the tragedy.

The initial death toll puts the Kanjuruhan tragedy second only to the Estadio Nacional disaster of 1964 in Lima, Peru as the deadliest soccer match in history. The Lima incident, circumstances of which was eerily similar to last night’s incident in Malang, saw 328 people killed when police fired tear gas into the crowd to prevent a pitch invasion, resulting in a stampede.

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