Police officer freed, another jailed over Indonesia stadium crush

Verdicts likely to add to anguish of the victims’ families who had already questioned the fairness of court proceedings.

One of three police officers charged over a deadly crowd crush that left 135 people dead in Indonesia has been freed and a second jailed after being found guilty of negligence.

The district court in the Indonesian city of Surabaya, some 780km (484 miles) east of the capital, Jakarta, allowed Bambang Sidik Achmadi, who was head of the Prevention Unit of the Malang Regency Police, to walk free, saying there was not enough evidence to convict him.

Another officer, Hasdarmawan, who led a unit of the paramilitary police squad known as Brimob, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

It is still announcing its decision on the third officer charged over the disaster, but the sentences are likely to be a further disappointment to the families of those who died.

Two match officials have already been jailed over last October’s crush, which came at the end of a hard-fought match between bitter rivals Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya in Malang, East Java.

Away fans were banned from the game but as spectators flooded on to the pitch after the final whistle police fired volleys of tear gas. Amid the clouds of smoke, people rushed for the exit gates in panic only to discover some of the gates were locked, trapping them inside.

Police described the pitch invasion as a riot and said two officers were killed, but survivors accused them of overreacting. Videos showed officers using force, kicking and hitting fans with batons, and pushing spectators back into the stands.

An investigation team set up by Indonesian President Joko Widodo amid national outrage over the deaths concluded that the tear gas was the main cause of the crowd surge.

Indonesia’s human rights body came to the same conclusion, saying the use of tear gas, banned by football’s world governing body, was “indiscriminate” and “excessive”.

Hasdarmawan was charged with negligence because he ordered his subordinates to deploy the tear gas, but in announcing the sentence the judge said there were grounds to believe that the fans’ behaviour could have contributed to the decision to use the gas. He also noted that the officer had cooperated with the investigation.

Of the 135 people who died, 38 were under the age of 17 and the youngest was just three years old.

In the wake of the tragedy, the head of the Indonesian National Police, Listyo Sigit Prabowo sacked the Malang Chief of Police, Ferli Hidayat, and relieved nine Brimob officers of their duties.

The trial of the three officers and the match officials began in January and has been dogged by complaints.

Video shared on social media last month appeared to show Indonesian police officers attempting to disrupt that trial, jeering and heckling as prosecutors arrived at court on February 14.

The prosecution had asked for jail terms of six years for the two officials. It is not known what they requested in the case of the police officers. The prosecution can appeal the verdicts.

With reporting by Syarina Hasibuan and Jessica Washington in Surabaya.

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