On 1 October 2022, the deadliest football tragedy of the twenty-first century unfolded at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia, after police shot tear gas in a packed stadium. In the ensuing chaos, 135 fans were crushed, among them 40 children and over 500 supporters were injured.
That night, as the referee’s whistle sealed the game’s results, fans took to the pitch. Police immediately replied by shooting chemical irritants at the field and then at the stands. More than 40 rounds of tear gas, flash bangs and flares were shot at fans within ten minutes, creating mass panic and a rush towards the scant and narrow exits. The gates were only wide enough for two persons to exit at a time, and some were locked. These events were largely reported by local and foreign media. In the outcry following the tragedy, a multidisciplinary investigation was ordered by President Joko Widodo. The team, composed of government officials and football and security experts, concluded that the tear gas–prohibited in sports venues under Indonesian police protocol–was indeed the main cause of deaths. The Malang chief of police was dismissed and an investigation was opened on scores of police officers. In its 124-page report, the investigation team also asked for the resignation of the chairman and the executive board of PSSI, Indonesia’s football association.
Indonesian human rights NGO and INCLO member Commission for Disappeared Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) took part in the Civil Society Coalition Fact-Finding Team which led a parallel independent inquiry of the police intervention. They discovered another set of
facts also pointing to the police’s responsibility in the tragedy, but they also highlight the systematic nature of these human rights violations whose planning involved high-ranking officials who were not accountable under the government-commissioned investigation. KontraS also discovered that witnesses had suffered intimidation on behalf of authorities after the events which are considered a means to deter survivors from telling their story. KontraS interviewed many witnesses, some of which were still recovering from the array of injuries provoked by the stampede, ranging from bruises to fractures, concussions, rashes on the face and body, respiratory distress and post-traumatic stress. Most deadly victims are suspected to have perished from suffocation and internal bleeding, some crushed against walls, others trampled against the ground.
Numerous witness accounts claim that authorities gave no verbal warning before shooting, first at the pitch and then at the stands. Firing chemical irritants into closed spaces or open spaces where there is no safe egress should be prohibited, as clearly stated in the
2020 UN Guidance on the Use of Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement and reiterated by FIFA guidelines. Following numerous football stadium tragedies across the globe in similar circumstances, the international soccer federation has also regulated against the use of tear gas in international games, but has done little or nothing for this to be enforced locally. On 18 October 2022, Indonesia announced its plans to demolish Kanjuruhan Stadium and rebuild another one compliant with FIFA regulations. At that point, six people, including police officers and organizers, were facing charges over the crush for criminal negligence and causing death, which carries a maximum sentence of five years.