Two football officials have been jailed after being found guilty of negligence in the case of 135 spectators killed in the 2022 stadium scrum.
A court in Indonesia has sentenced two football officials to prison after they were found guilty of negligence in a stadium crash that killed 135 people and became one of the deadliest sporting disasters in the world.
The incident happened in October 2022, when a tense game in Malang, East Java between bitter rivals Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya ended in chaos, with an invasion of the pitch and police response with volleys of tear gas, suffocating spectators and the crowd forced to flee exits – some of which were locked – resulting in deadly crushing.
The game’s organizer, Abdul Haris, was found guilty on Thursday of “negligence causing the deaths of people,” said the judge at the court in the city of Surabaya, some 780 km (484 miles) east of the capital Jakarta.
The public prosecutor had asked for a prison sentence of six years.
“I sentence the accused to a year and a half in prison,” said chief judge Abu Achmad Sidqi Amsya.
The judges also found a stadium security officer, Suko Sutrisno, guilty of negligence and sentenced him to one year in prison.
“The defendant did not foresee the chaos because there had never been an emergency situation before. The defendant also did not understand his job as a security guard well,” the judge said.
Both men have seven days to appeal the verdict.
Three police officers who were also charged with criminal offenses following the Kanjuruhan stadium disaster will decide their sentences at a later date.
Match official Abdul Haris’ legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington, reporting from Jakarta, said the court case focused on the officials responsible for the ill-fated game.
“What we heard from the prosecution is that the organizing committee, the match officials, well, they had a responsibility to make sure the spectators were safe, the stadium gates were unlocked, the evacuation routes were clear,” Washington said.
“The response we heard from the defense was that although, yes, capacity could have been an issue – more than 43,000 tickets were sold for that game – previous games have seen the same number of people attend the games at this stadium visited … and there were no security incidents,” she said.
The defense “pointed the finger at the police and blamed the police who fired the tear gas,” Washington added.
Video footage from the night of the tragedy showed police firing tear gas not only at fans who had invaded the field but also at spectators in the stands.
“That caused people to panic and run to the gates, only to find that many of the gates were closed and locked and they couldn’t escape the tear gas-filled stadium,” Washington said.
Investigators with the Indonesian human rights organization also blamed the police for the “indiscriminate” and “excessive” use of tear gas that night, she added.
That investigation found police fired 45 rounds of tear gas into the crowd at the stadium, media reported.
The world football association FIFA has banned the use of tear gas as a crowd control measure in stadiums.
Of the 135 people who died that night at Malang stadium, 38 were under the age of 17 and the youngest victim was just three years old.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said shortly after the disaster that his government would demolish and rebuild the stadium and announced the suspension of all football competition matches. League games resumed last month without fans in the stands.
A total of five people have been tried following the tragedy at the stadium, including the three police officers whose verdicts will not be announced until next week.
A video shared on social media last month appeared to show Indonesian police officers trying to disrupt the trial of the three officers, jeering and heckling when prosecutors arrived at the court on February 14.
Indonesia’s Legal Aid Institute, along with several other civil society groups, said in a statement after the court incident that the police officers’ behavior constituted a clear abuse of power and was aimed at disrupting the legal process.
Following the stadium disaster, Indonesian National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo fired Malang Police Chief Ferli Hidayat and dismissed nine officers from their duties.