Thousands rally for justice after Indonesian stadium tragedy

FILE - Supporters of soccer club Arema FC pray for victims of the Oct. 1, soccer match stampede outside the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, Indonesia, on Oct. 3, 2022. Thousands of people in Indonesia rallied Thursday, Nov. 10, demanding justice and a thorough investigation into those they blame for the stampede at Kanjuruhan soccer stadium that left more than 100 people dead last month. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

MALANG, Indonesia (AP) — Thousands of people in Indonesia rallied Thursday demanding justice and a thorough investigation into those they blame for the stampede at Kanjuruhan soccer stadium that left 135 people dead last month.

Supporters of Arema FC started the rally with the prayer at the in East Java’s Malang city as they commemorated 40 days since the tragedy that occurred after police fired tear gas at a domestic league soccer match and caused a deadly crush as spectators attempted to flee.

Protestors from regions outside of the Malang area joined the rally. Organizers have described the events leading up to the deaths of the football spectators as human rights violations.

“Do arrest and judge all actors behind and the executors on the field from the Kanjuruhan tragedy on October 1," the Arema fans, known as “Aremania,” said in a written statement Thursday. “Make the Kanjuruhan tragedy a serious human rights violation and not just a minor human rights violation.

“Pay for all losses suffered by the victim and the victim’s family through compensation and restitution mechanisms."

The protestors planned to visit several landmarks in Malang, including the Gajayana soccer stadium, Malang city square and Malang City Hall.

Malang Mayor Sutiaji, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, met the participants and thanked them for the peaceful rally. Government officials in Malang are wearing black for two days to mark 40 days since one of the world’s deadliest sporting disasters.

An investigation team, set up by Indonesian President Joko Widodo in response to a national outcry over the deaths, last month concluded that the tear gas was the main cause.

It said police on duty had no knowledge that the use of tear gas is prohibited at soccer stadiums and used it “indiscriminately” on the pitch, in the stands and outside the stadium, causing more than 42,000 spectators inside the 36,000-seat stadium to rush to the exits, several of which were locked.

The fact-finding team, which included government officials, soccer and security experts and activists, also concluded that the national soccer association, known as PSSI, had been negligent and had ignored safety and security regulations, and urged its chairman and executive committee to quit.

Police officers fired tear gas when fans flooded the pitch after Arema FC was defeated in a home match for the first time in 23 years by rival Persebaya Surabaya.

The match was attended only by Arema fans, as organizers had banned Persebaya supporters because of Indonesia’s history of violent soccer rivalries.

National Police have removed the police chiefs of East Java province and Malang district and suspended nine other officers over violations of professional ethics.

Authorities have said they are bringing criminal charges against six people for negligence, including the head of the league's administration, PT Liga Indonesia Baru, two Arema FC officials and three police officers who allowed or ordered officers to use tear gas. They have been arrested by the East Java police and could face up to five years in jail.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has met President Widodo and pledged to help improve stadium safety.