Five Indonesian men charged with negligence leading to one of the worst stadium disasters in soccer history appeared in court via video link on Monday as their trial began.
The October stampede in the east Java city of Malang, which killed 135 people, including more than 40 children, came after police fired tear gas into packed stands as fans stormed the pitch at end of a match between rivals Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya.
Hundreds of people fled through narrow exits, resulting in a crush that left many trampled or suffocated to death.
Three local police officers, a match organizer and a security officer were charged with negligence for their role in the disaster.
The suspects face a maximum sentence of five years in prison if convicted.
A sixth suspect, a former director of the company that runs Indonesia’s premier division, remains under police investigation.
On Monday, authorities deployed hundreds of security personnel around the court and the trial was held virtually for security reasons.
Outside the courthouse, Rink Hanifah displayed photos of her son Agus Riansyah, one of the victims who went to watch the soccer game and never returned.
Authorities told Arema FC supporters not to travel to Surabaya for the trial for fear of clashes with police or rival fans.
Police described the Oct. 1 pitch invasion as a riot and said two officers were killed, but survivors accused police of using excessive force.
They were seen kicking and punching pitch invaders before indiscriminately firing rounds of tear gas into the stands, despite world soccer governing body FIFA banning the use of such riot control methods in stadiums.
The Indonesian National Police fired police chiefs from Malang city and East Java province after the tragedy.
The government also suspended all competitive soccer matches after the disaster, but league matches resumed last month without fans in the stands.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has ordered an investigation into what happened and vowed to demolish and rebuild Arema’s Kanjuruhan Stadium in accordance with FIFA standards.
The task force investigating the stampede called for the resignation of the head of the football association and all members of its executive committee, but they refused to do so.
The stampede was one of the world’s deadliest stadium disasters since 320 people were crushed to death at a soccer match in Peru in 1964.