SURABAYA, Indonesia (Reuters) - An Indonesian court on Monday began a trial of a handful of police officers and soccer match organisers on charges of criminal negligence for their role in one of the world's deadliest soccer stadium stampedes in Java last October.
The disaster, in which 135 people died, occurred after a match at Kanjuruhan stadium in Malang, East Java, sparking questions about safety provisions and the use of tear gas, a crowd-control measure banned by soccer's global governing body, FIFA.
A court in Surabaya will hear charges against five people, including three police officials and one security officer, and a match organiser. If found guilty, they face a maximum prison sentence of five years.
The trial is being held via teleconference due to security concerns, said court spokesperson Agung Pranata.
Indonesia's human rights commission, which conducted an investigation into the stampede last November, found police fired 45 rounds of tear gas into the crowd at the end of the match, causing panic that led to the stampede. Investigators concluded that excessive and indiscriminate use of tear gas was the main trigger behind the deadly crush.
The commission said locked doors, an overcapacity stadium and failure to properly implement safety procedures exacerbated the death toll.
A lawyer for the match organiser from Arema, one of the soccer clubs involved in the match, said his client denied all charges.
"If there is negligence it should be on the police, who fired the tear gas, not us," said Sudarman, the lawyer.
Lawyers for the police and security officers on trial were not immediately available for comment.
After the incident Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced that all soccer league matches would be suspended, and that Kanjuruhan stadium would be demolished and rebuilt.
League matches have since resumed in the Southeast Asian nation, but without any spectators.
(Reporting by Prasto Wardoyo; Additional reporting by Ananda Teresia in Jakarta; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)