A Canadian and Indonesian were jailed for 10 years each on Thursday for sexually abusing children at an elite Jakarta international school, sparking anger from supporters who say the men are innocent, as well as concern over the rule of law in Indonesia.
In a courtroom packed with supporters, Canadian administrator Neil Bantleman — who also holds British nationality — and Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong were found guilty of abusing three young boys at the Jakarta Intercultural School. Both men have strongly denied committing abuse, and received backing from pupils’ parents and the school, which has for decades been favored by expatriates and wealthy Indonesians in the capital. Their supporters say both the police investigation and trial have been deeply flawed, and claim the case has been motivated by a bid by one alleged victim’s family to get compensation from the school.
Following the verdict, Canada called for due process to be followed, Britain noted irregularities in the case, while the US said it was “deeply disappointed” and warned the outcome could damage Indonesia’s reputation abroad.
After an all-day session reading the verdict at the South Jakarta District Court, presiding judge Nur Aslam declared both men guilty of abusing the children.
Passing judgement on Bantleman, she said: “The defendant did not admit his crime or express regret for his deeds, nor did he apologize for what he did, which psychologically damaged underage children.”
Both men were sentenced to 10 years in jail and ordered to pay a fine of 100 million rupiah (US$7,682). Prosecutors had sought a 12-year term. To applause and cheers from his supporters, who included many parents at the school, Bantleman said that he would appeal the verdict: “We will continue to fight until the truth comes out.”
Her voice breaking with emotion, his wife Tracy said that she was “deeply disturbed and appalled by the decision of the panel of judges.”
Tjiong also said he would appeal the verdict. The scandal at the school — formerly known as the Jakarta International School — began in April last year with accusations that cleaning staff abused a nursery school boy, and was quickly followed by claims of abuse from other parents. However, horror at the alleged assault quickly transformed into concern at what supporters say was an unfair attempt to target Bantleman and Tjiong by Indonesia’s notoriously corrupt police and judicial system.
The prosecutions sparked deep unease among the expatriate community and foreign governments alike. Following the verdict, US Ambassador to Indonesia Robert Blake said there were serious questions about “the investigative process and lack of credible evidence against the teachers.”
“We are deeply disappointed with this outcome... The broad international community is following this case closely. The outcome of the legal process and what it reveals about the rule of law in Indonesia will have a significant impact on Indonesia’s reputation abroad,” he said.
The British embassy in Jakarta said in a statement there were “concerns about irregularities in this case,” noting its consular staff were prevented from attending the trial.
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Rob Nicholson said that Canada had “called for a fair and transparent trial throughout the judicial process.”
Supporters have accused police of a botched investigation, and allege unfair trials, which the judge closed to the public, saying it was because they involved children.
The prosecution insists that the testimony of the alleged victims is the truth and that their claims are backed up by evidence from medical examinations. However, the defense said the evidence was flawed, pointing in particular to a claim by one boy that Bantleman inserted a “magic stone” into him to stop him feeling pain.
The men have said that the decision to prosecute them revolved around a separate lawsuit filed by the family of one of the alleged victims, which demands US$125 million in compensation from the school.
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