At least 125 people are dead after chaos and violence erupted during an Indonesian league soccer match into the early hours of Sunday, according to Indonesia’s National Police Chief in what is one of the world’s deadliest stadium disasters of all time.
Supporters of Arema FC and rival Persebaya Surabaya, two of Indonesia’s biggest soccer teams, clashed in the stands after home team Arema FC was defeated 3-2 at a match in the city of Malang in East Java, police said.
Supporters from the losing team then “invaded” the pitch and police fired tear gas, triggering a fan crush that led to cases of suffocation, East Java police chief Nico Afinta said during a press conference following the event.
Two police officers were also among the dead, he said, adding that the crush occurred when fans fled for an exit gate.
More than 300 people were injured, according to Indonesian authorities, with fears that the death toll could rise.
Earlier on Sunday, the governor of the East Java province, where the incident occurred, said the death toll was at 131. National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo clarified the discrepancy of the previous higher numbers saying it was due to some casualties being recorded twice.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, on Sunday ordered all league matches to be halted until investigations were completed.
“I have specially requested the police chief to investigate and get to the bottom of this case,” Jokowi said in a televised speech. “Sportsmanship, humanity and brotherhood should be upheld in Indonesia.”
“I regret this tragedy and hope that it will be the last to occur in Indonesian football. We cannot have anymore (of this) in the future.”
Videos filmed from inside the stadium late into the night and shared on social media showed fans, dressed in red and blue – the home team’s colors – storming the field and clashing with Indonesian security forces, who appeared to be wearing riot gear.
Video footage broadcast on local news channels also showed images of body bags, Reuters reported.
Smoke, which appeared to be tear gas, was also seen later in videos, with several people shown being carried into a building. Officials said that many had been admitted to nearby hospitals, suffering from “lack of oxygen and shortness of breath.”
One of the worst stadium disasters in history
Located in East Java, the Kanjuruhan Stadium is used mostly for soccer matches – with its full capacity estimated at 38,000 spectators.
But 42,000 tickets were issued for Saturday’s game, according to ministry officials.
“We had anticipated the (large) numbers and suggested that the game be held in the afternoon instead but it went on in the evening,” Indonesian Chief Security Minister Mahfud MD said in a post shared on his official social media accounts.
He added that the stadium had been “filled beyond its maximum capacity.”
“Our proposals were not met. I also would like to emphasize that supporters in the field were Arema FC’s.”
There have been previous outbreaks of trouble at matches in Indonesia, with a strong rivalry between clubs sometimes leading to violence among supporters.
“All sports clubs (in Indonesia) that compete between the two cities are always intense,” Indonesian football analyst Dex Glenniza told CNN, who noted that it was “forbidden” for Arema and Persebaya supporters to visit each other’s stadiums.
“(This is) in order to avoid friction and clashes between supporters,” he said. “But there are still many incidents between the supporters, most of which off the field.”
Police chief Listyo said officers will look at the organization and security that was in place during the match, and that a number of specialized units have been dispatched to investigate the incident. The probe will also look into the police officers who were on duty at the time of the incident, he said.
With Indonesia set to host next year’s FIFA Under-20 World Cup and staging a bid for the 2023 Asian Cup, there is now global scrutiny on the country.
Observers note that the death toll from the Kanjuruhan Stadium disaster has surpassed that of other global soccer disasters like the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium tragedy in Sheffield, England, which saw 96 Liverpool supporters being crushed to death.
Criticism is also growing over the police’s handling of Saturday’s event. In a statement released on Sunday, watchdog group Indonesian Police Watch (IPW) called for accountability and the “removal” of Malang Police Chief Ferli Hidayat.
“This is the worst event in Indonesian soccer. The police chief should be ashamed and resign,” IPW said.
“The death toll must be thoroughly investigated and President Jokowi must pay attention,” it added.
Exiled Indonesia rights advocate Veronica Koman of Amnesty International condemned the police’s use of tear gas.
“This instance of abuse of tear gas by police is unlawful and amounts to torture,” she said.
“Tear gas is illegal in warfare – but why is it still legal for domestic use?”