SURABAYA: An Indonesian court on Thursday acquitted two senior police officers charged with negligence over a stadium crowd crush last year that killed 135 people, angering relatives of those who died in one of football's worst tragedies.
Another officer was jailed for 18 months but families of the victims said he had been treated too leniently.
Police had been blamed for triggering the deadly October 1 stampede at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang by firing tear gas after supporters invaded the pitch following a 3-2 defeat for Arema FC by their fierce East Javan rivals Persebaya Surabaya.
Several relatives of 135 victims, who included 40 children, broke into tears when the judge read the verdicts on the last day of the trial, with one lawyer saying there had been “no justice” for the families.
Malang police officer Bambang Sidik Achmadi, who was accused of ordering his subordinates to fire tear gas, was found not guilty by the court in Surabaya, capital of East Java.
Presiding judge Abu Achmad Sidqi Amsya said the charges had “not been proven”, and the defendant was free to go.
Fellow Malang police officer Wahyu Setyo Pranoto was also found not guilty.
Prosecutors had initially claimed Pranoto ignored FIFA's regulation prohibiting the use of tear gas at a football match.
One officer, a commander for East Java police's mobile brigade unit, was jailed for 18 months.
Hasdarmawan, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, had previously denied ordering his subordinates to fire tear gas towards the supporters.
“The defendant failed to predict a situation that was actually quite easy to anticipate. There was an option not to fire (the tear gas) to respond to the supporters’ violence,“ judge Amsya said as he handed down the sentence.
Wearing a white shirt and a face mask, the officer listened quietly as the judge delivered the sentence, which was shorter than the three years prosecutors had asked for. He has seven days to file an appeal.
Several relatives of the victims broke into tears upon hearing the verdicts.
“I am certainly not satisfied and disappointed. I was hoping they would get a fair sentence... I feel like the justice has been shredded,“ Isatus Sa’adah, who lost her 16-year-old brother in the stampede, told reporters.
Another relative said the acquittals hurt his family.
“Our family is very disappointed by the judge’s ruling that acquitted the defendants... we were hoping the sentence would be harsher than the prosecutors’ recommendation, not lower,“ Muhammad Rifkiyanto, who lost his 22-year-old cousin, told reporters.
Lawyer Imam Hidayat, who represents some of the victims, said the case had been marred with inconsistencies.
“The victims have said they are not satisfied with the verdict. There is no justice for them. This has further proven that this Kanjuruhan case has been manipulated,“ Hidayat told AFP.
“There were so many inconsistencies, might as well declare all of them not guilty,“ he said.
Hundreds of university students dressed in black staged a protest in Malang following the verdicts.
London-based rights group Amnesty International said the verdicts highlighted the long-standing abuse of power in Indonesia.
“The authorities are once again failing to provide justice to victims of excessive force in Indonesia, despite vows in the aftermath of the disaster to hold those responsible to account,“ Amnesty’s Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said in a statement.
“Lack of accountability also sends a dangerous message to members of the security forces who may be reassured that they can operate with a free hand and zero consequences.”
Last week, the court sentenced the head of the match organising committee, Abdul Haris, and security official Suko Sutrisno to 18 months and one year in prison respectively.
The former director of the company that runs Indonesia's premier league has also been named as a suspect and remains under investigation.
The government-backed National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas HAM) has previously said deaths in the Kanjuruhan stampede were caused by the tear gas and the police response.
The tragedy forced Indonesian officials to confront failings in various aspects of the domestic game, which has been blighted for years by shaky infrastructure, mismanagement and violence.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered an investigation and pledged to demolish and rebuild the Kanjuruhan Stadium according to FIFA standards.
A task force investigating the crush has called on the head of Indonesia's football association and all the members of its executive committee to resign, but so far they have refused to do so.
FIFA head Gianni Infantino in October called the crush “one of the darkest days for football”.
The government also suspended all competitive football games but league matches resumed last month.
Indonesia is now getting ready to host in May and June the Under-20 World Cup in various cities. - AFP