JAKARTA, Indonesia – At least 23 Indonesians were crushed to death Monday while trying to collect $4.25 in cash handouts from a rich family at a charity event marking the Islamic holy month, officials said. Eight others were critically injured in the stampede.
Several thousand people started gathering outside the house in Pasuruan, a town about 500 miles east of the capital of Jakarta, in the morning to collect their tithe, said local police chief Harry Sitompul.
Television footage showed the victims — mostly women — screaming as they were pushed into the fence outside the home. At least 23 died and eight others were hospitalized, Sitompul said, some after being trampled and others from lack of oxygen.
Many of Indonesia's 220 million Muslims fast during the daylight hours of Ramadan.
Under a system known as Zakat, the wealthy are required to give away a portion of their money to the poor, but distribution is often chaotic and sometimes deadly. Many donors choose to hand out gifts directly, worried that corrupt government officials will try to pocket some of the cash.
"It's tragic and embarrassing," said Social Affairs Minister Bachtiar Chamzah. "It goes to show that we have to find a better way ... we have to fix this."
The man behind Monday's charity event, reportedly a car dealer, was placed under police protection afterward to prevent reprisal attacks from relatives of victims, said Mayor Aminurohman, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name.
The same man held a similar event last year that drew thousands of people and resulted in one death, with dozens injured, he said.
"There was no coordination with police during the handout," the mayor said. "It's a shame he did not learn from his past mistakes and ask for help."