One year on, still no closure for kin

Painful memories: Nur reacting as she sits beside the grave of her son Jovan, who was among the 135 people killed in the stampede at the Kanjuruhan football stadium on Oct 1, 2022, in Malang, East Java. — AFP

Holding buckets of water, Cholifatul Nur sprinkles flowers planted at her young son’s grave and wipes clean the stone slab where a scarf of his favourite team is draped, a year after his death at an Indonesian football stadium.

Fifteen-year-old Jovan Farellino was one of 135 people killed after a match in the East Java city of Malang, with many dying from suffocation or being trampled in one of the deadliest disasters in the sport’s history.

Wearing all black, Nur speaks of the grief and intimidation she has faced in her fight for justice alongside other relatives of the dead. They blame police who fired tear gas into stands packed with Arema FC fans, causing a panicked rush for small exits.

“Jovan was everything for me. He was my only child,” she said.

She rushed to the stadium just before midnight after hearing about the unfolding tragedy, knowing her son had attended, only the third time he had done so.When she arrived, she found his lifeless body at the VIP gate where his friends had moved him.

“Suddenly, he perished in that way. I can’t accept that,” she said.

The tear gas shot into stands after a post-match pitch invasion was deemed the official cause of the deaths, but families say authorities have not been held appropriately responsible for their actions at Kanjuruhan Stadium.

Several prison sentences have been handed to three police officers for negligence, ranging from one to two-and-a-half years.

Two of them were acquitted earlier this year, to families’ dismay, but the Supreme Court has since overturned that decision.

A judge also earlier ruled police had not shot tear gas into stands – rather, it was carried by the wind. But that account was disputed by witnesses and challenged by video footage.

FIFA, football’s world governing body, bans the use of tear gas in stadiums.

Seven families, including Nur’s, pursued legal action seeking compensation of around 62 billion rupiah (RM18.77mil), according to Imam Hidayat, a lawyer representing them. But a local court rejected that bid.

The tragedy stoked the ire of Indonesians against the country’s police, who critics have long accused of using excessive violence to quell unrest as well as intimidation to silence detractors.

After criticising authorities during police questioning, Nur says men in black clothing nearly hit her on a motorbike. She also caught people taking photographs of her home.

Nur says police officers even told her they could help her nephew join the force.

“I don’t want that. The child I lost came from my own womb,” she said. “I want the death sentence (for the officers). It’s fair, a life for a life.”

Rini Hanifah lost her 20-year-old son, Agus Riansyah, in the stadium crush after he had asked for her permission to attend the match.

She allowed Agus to go but refused to let him take two younger siblings because, even with away fans banned, it was a heated derby against fierce rivals Persebaya Surabaya.

The mother, who says she is seeing a psychiatrist to deal with the grief, claims she was also offered the opportunity for her other children to join the police force.

“They told me if my children wanted to become police officers, it would be easy,” she said.

East Java police did not respond to an AFP request for comment.

Indonesian football association executive committee member Srya Sinulingga said officials have “made various changes, both reactive to events and proactive” including improved stadium safety measures.

But many believe the police have not, like Hanifah, who called police “scoundrels” and slammed the trial.

“It was a sham. It felt like a puppet show,” she said.

“Please restore our trust, so that we believe again that in Indonesia, there is justice.”

“We support the families’ fight for justice,” said Usman Hamid of Amnesty International Indonesia, adding no significant government measures have been taken to prevent a repeat disaster.

Back in Malang, Nur kisses a prayer book before leaving her son’s grave, wipes away tears and makes him a promise that she will avenge his death.

“This is my child. I have to fight for him... I have to find justice, whatever’s at stake,” she said.

“If my life could be exchanged with justice, I want that.” — AFP

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