The Week In Review: Mina Stampede, Again


Mourning was the apparent mood in the past week as Muslims worldwide witnessed the fatal stampede in Mina, near Mecca, on Thursday. The stampede '€” the worst accident to strike the annual haj in 25 years '€” killed 717 pilgrims, including three Indonesians, and injured 863 others.

Thursday'€™s disaster occurred at a crossroads on Street 204 as thousands of pilgrims were on their way to perform the compulsory jumrah throwing ritual. It was the worst incident to befall the pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims were crushed to death in a tunnel, also near Mecca. Both stampedes occurred on Idul Adha (the Islamic Day of Sacrifice), a festival held at the end of the haj'€” the fifth of the five pillars of Islam.

The Mina tragedy occurred less than two weeks after a massive construction crane collapsed onto Mecca'€™s Grand Mosque in stormy weather on Sept. 11, killing at least 107 people and injuring 238.

The Grand Mosque is the center of gravity for Muslims in all their religious rituals. It is usually most crowded on Fridays, the Muslim weekly day of prayer.

A massive project is under way to expand the area of the mosque by 400,000 square meters, allowing it to accommodate up to 2.2 million people at once. The project is expected to be completed at the end of next year. Though marred in the past by deadly incidents, including floods, stampedes and fires, the haj has been nearly incident-free in recent years owing to multibillion dollar investments.

However, the fact that Thursday'€™s stampede occurred again in Mina '€” although in a different section of the city '€” has triggered questions over the effectiveness and local authorities'€™ readiness to foresee such a tragedy from happening.

A number of tragedies have occurred in Mina in past years during the haj, one of which was the July 1990 stampede. A similar incident during the stoning ritual was repeated there in 1994, while a fire incident occurred in the city in 1997. Similar incidents during the stoning ritual occurred again in Mina in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2006.

Apart from the Thursday'€™s stampede, which dominated global news reports in the past week, media reports at home also featured the publication of a photograph of graft convict Gayus H. Tambunan. The former tax officer has again exposed the flaws of the country'€™s penitentiary system after he was spotted having lunch at a Jakarta restaurant while he was supposed to be serving his sentence in Sukamiskin Penitentiary in Bandung, West Java.

The Law and Human Rights Ministry confirmed on Monday that the notoriously elusive inmate, who has reportedly made several illegal excursions while behind bars, had meals with two women on Sept. 9. A photograph of him and the two women went viral after a Facebook account named '€œBaskoro Endrawan'€ posted the lunch picture on Sept. 19.

The ministry'€™s director general of penitentiaries, I Wayan K. Dusak, said Gayus had a permit to attend his divorce hearing at the North Jakarta Religious Court. He later allegedly used the opportunity to coax prison escorts to make a lunch stop at a restaurant on their way back to Sukamiskin. As a result, Gayus has been in an isolation cell at the Sukamiskin prison since Monday morning for further questioning.

After being sentenced to 30 years on several tax fraud charges, Gayus will also be grilled on possible bribes paid to the prison officials to allow the illegal stop. If proven guilty, the ministry will hand down disciplinary sanctions to the officials and Gayus. In addition to the isolation, he could also be banned from receiving remission next year.

Gayus received a sentence cut this year, but lawmakers have demanded that it be cancelled or reduced following the incident. Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly even warned that Gayus might be sent to a new isolated special penitentiary for drug kingpins in Gunung Sindur, Bogor, West Java, as a further deterrence mechanism.

This was not the first facility that Gayus had received since being in custody. Gayus left his cell at the police'€™s Kelapa Dua detention center in Depok, West Java, on Nov. 3, 2010 after bribing the warden and flew to Bali with his wife and children. On Nov. 4, 2010, Gayus, who wore a wig, was caught by journalists'€™ cameras watching an international tennis match on the tourist island.

His controversial appearance in public, although it was only made public through social media, came at about the same time the country was being plagued by critical issues, such as haze, which has been causing respiratory and eyesight problems in many parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan, as well as neighboring Singapore and Malaysia. He has also made headlines amid '€œinternal bickering'€ within the Cabinet, particularly over the country'€™s urgent needs and its ability to meet the rapidly increasing demand for energy, particularly electricity.

Hopefully, his controversial public appearance was a mere coincidence and not on purpose.

'€” Imanuddin Razak

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