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One year after deadly fan crush at Indonesia soccer stadium, families still seek justice

MALANG, Indonesia (AP) — A year has passed slowly for Devi Athok, an Indonesian man whose two teenage daughters died in a crush of fans at a soccer stadium in East Java in October 2022 after police fired tear gas, setting off a panicked run for the exits that left 135 people dead.

The crowd surge in Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang city was among the world’s worst sporting tragedies. Some 43 children died and around 580 people were injured in the incident.

Chaos broke out after Persebaya Surabaya defeated Arema Malang 3-2 in the Oct. 1 match in front of some 42,000 spectators, prompting police to fire tear gas, including toward the stadium’s stands, causing panic among the crowd.

Athok had bought four tickets for the Saturday night match for his two daughters, his ex-wife and her new husband. His 13-year-old daughter, Naila Debi Anggraini, decided to join her family at the last minute. She died in the crush along with her older sister, 16-year-old Natasya Debi Ramadani, and their mother, Geby Asta Putri, 37.

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In the year since the incident, Indonesia has convicted five of six suspects who were charged with negligence leading to the deaths of 135 people. Investigations have been conducted both by police and an independent team set up by Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

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Two police officers who were initially acquitted by the Surabaya Court were later sentenced to prison by the Supreme Court. One was sentenced to two years and the other was sentenced to two and a half years. The former East Java Police mobile brigade commander was found guilty and sentenced to a year and a half in prison, and the football club’s former security officer was sentenced to one year.

But some relatives of the victims say the punishments don’t go far enough and continue to fight for justice.

Athok said there have been irregularities in the narrative of what happened and that he has experienced intimidation since he started speaking out about the deaths of his daughters.

He said that police told him his daughters did not die from tear gas — which was the conclusion reached by the independent investigation team — but from a blunt object blow to the chest that broke their ribs.

“At the trial, police said there was a brawl between fans even though there were no Persebaya supporters at the stadium. This is a public lie. We are being fooled,” said Athok, wearing a T-shirt showing the faces of his daughters. On the back is a photo of himself praying and the words: “Rest in peace in heaven, my daughters. Your father is fighting for justice for you.”

“I want to fight legally, seek justice for the death of my daughters. If you ask if I have sincerely accepted what happened, yes, I sincerely do. They are dead, they won’t come back. But under the law, I seek justice against the killer of my two daughters,” he added.

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Amnesty International Indonesia, on the one-year anniversary of the deadly incident, called on the Indonesia government to investigate and bring to justice all who were responsible.

“The legal process related to the security forces who fired tear gas has not yet reached their leaders at the command level. This is unacceptable, and the families of the victims who died and those who were injured deserve proper justice and accountability,” said Usman Hamid, the Executive Director of Amnesty International Indonesia, in a statement.

The rights organization also called for an evaluation into the use of excessive force, including tear gas. The crowd surge in Kanjuruhan highlighted the dangers of using tear gas in crowds, it said.

The government began renovation work at Kanjuruhan stadium in September, and people gathered around the stadium on Saturday to pray for the victims of the crowd surge. More are expected to gather there on Sunday.

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Tarigan reported from Jakarta, Indonesia.