Two Indonesian soccer officials were sentenced up to 18 months in prison by a court on Thursday over a deadly stadium crush last year that killed more than 130 people and injured hundreds more in what was one of the sport’s worst disasters.
The sentences were the first jailings handed down by Indonesia’s courts over a tragedy that shocked the nation and sparked widespread anger towards local police who fired tear gas into a dangerously over-crowded stadium in the East Java province last October.
Abdul Haris, Chairman of the Organizing Committee for soccer club Arema FC, was found guilty of negligence and responsible for selling too many tickets, exceeding the maximum capacity of the stadium. His sentence was significantly below the more than six years jail time that prosecutors had asked the court for.
Arema FC’s security officer Suko Sutrisno was sentenced to one year in prison. The maximum imprisonment for negligence in the southeast Asian country is five years.
Three police officials who are also charged with negligence will have their cases heard at a later date.
A number of the 42,000 Arema FC supporters ran onto the pitch following their loss to rival Persebaya Surabaya, clashing with police and prompting security forces to fire tear gas into enclosed areas of the stadium – a crowd control measure banned by world soccer governing body FIFA.
Most of the deaths were found to have occurred as panicked fans attempted to flee the choking smoke, triggering a crush at the exits.
Several gates were still locked minutes after the referee blew the final whistle on the night of the disaster, the Football Association of Indonesia said in a statement last year.
The game’s organizers and police authorities faced mounting criticism and allegations of mismanagement, with survivors and victims’ loved ones demanding answers.
“It was a big mistake,” Andi Hariyanto, 32, who lost several family members in the crush, told CNN at the time.
“Don’t they know that there were many women and children who were also watching the match? I still don’t understand. What did we do to make them want to shoot us?”
Last year, Indonesia’s president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo vowed to “thoroughly transform” the sport in the soccer-crazy nation, adding the football stadium where the crush took place would be demolished and rebuilt “according to FIFA standards.”