Families distraught as police acquitted the Indonesia football stadium crush

An Indonesian court has acquitted two police officers charged in connection with last year's Kanjuruhan stadium crush, angering the victims' families. After firing tear gas at the stadium's spectators, the police were blamed for causing the crush that evening. 

This precipitated a stampede that claimed 135 lives, making it the second-deadliest football disaster in history. Following the verdict, devastated families in the courtroom on Thursday erupted in anger and disbelief.

A woman whose adolescent son was killed in the crush remarked, "If so many have died, why are they now free?" Throughout the court hearing, Susiani had a photograph of her 16-year-old son in her hand. She appeared devastated as the verdict was read.

One officer was sentenced to 18 months in prison for criminal negligence, while two other senior officers were found not guilty of the same charges. One commander, Bambang Sidik Achmadi, was alleged to have ordered his police unit to fire tear gas at spectators. However, the local court in East Java determined that such accusations "were not proven." 

Wahyu Setyo Pranoto, the police commissioner, was also acquitted. "There is no causal connection between the actions of the defendant and the victim. The element of negligence is also unproven. Therefore, the defendant should be found not guilty" said chief judge Abu Achmad Sidqi Amsya.

Human rights organizations have condemned the verdict and questioned the legal process. Since it began in January behind closed doors, families of the victims have been critical of the trial. Mr. Irfan, the leader of a local rights organization called Kontras, stated that it was "reasonable to suspect that the panel of judges is acting unfairly in this case's trial." He urged prosecutors to file an appeal of the verdict.

Hasdarmawan, the convicted police officer, was given a sentence of 18 months, which was half the time sought by prosecutors. The chief judge stated that he had failed to "predict a situation that was quite simple to predict."

"There was an alternative to firing [tear gas] in response to the violence of the supporters," the judge Amsya stated. In October of last year, Arema FC supporters invaded the stadium field after their team lost 3-2 to their fierce East Java rivals Persebaya Surabaya.

The police responded by firing tear gas at those on the field and stadium fans who attempted to flee. This caused a crowd crush at the stadium's narrow exits. There were at least 40 children among the victims that night. Over 600 individuals were injured. The court sentenced two football club officials to prison last week for their roles in the tragedy. 

Chairman of the organizing committee for the home club, Abdul Haris, was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Suko Sutrisno, the club's security officer, was sentenced to one year in prison. The judge stated that club officials had failed to implement adequate safety measures. 

In Indonesia, the Kanjuruhan disaster has been a major source of national sorrow. It is the second-deadliest football disaster in history, after the 328-person stampede in Lima, Peru in 1964.

The Indonesian human rights body, Komnas HAM, concluded in a report issued last year that tear gas used by the police precipitated the tragic incident. After the incident, a police chief and nine elite officers were removed from their positions.