JIS teacher Neil Bantleman gives a statement to the press after his initial conviction on April 2, 2015. THe verdict was overturned on Aug. 14 by the Jakarta High Court. (EPA Photo/Adi Weda)

JG Exclusive: Kangaroo Court: How Did a Prosecution With So Many Holes Win a Guilty Verdict?

BY :BASTEN GOKKON

SEPTEMBER 27, 2015

The following is part of Jakarta Globe reporter Basten Gokkon’s extensive interview with Neil Bantleman and Ferdinand Tjiong – the Jakarta Intercultural School teachers falsely accused of the sexual abuse of three young students – and their wives, Tracy and Sisca, in their first direct comments to the media since their conviction was overturned by the Jakarta High Court on Aug. 14. Read more of this exclusive interview here.

The trial of Neil Bantleman and Ferdinand Tjiong at the South Jakarta District Court was marred by a host of irregularities, including the prosecution’s repeated inability to submit the evidence that they held up as proof of the defendants’ guilt. There was also the now notorious testimony from a sex expert who claimed that both defendants were gay and hence capable of sodomizing young children, and the refusal by the judges to consider the evidence submitted by the defense, including medical tests carried out in Singapore.

Q: How did you feel when the district court judges found you guilty?

Tracy: I think there was some sense of we kind of saw it coming, but were still hopeful…

Neil: Well, because of the days in court you would hear something that is just unbelievable or completely disproven by expert witnesses on the defense part. But Tracy said all of that information was being waived, so you knew it was coming, that there was not going to be a good ruling from the district court level. And during the trial, experts on the prosecution side were presenting things like a medical report or a lie detector test results, but Ferdi and I always asked where they were and whether they brought it to the court. Show us a piece of evidence, show us a piece of some concrete piece of evidence that links us to any of these accusations. ‘Did you bring the medical report?’ ‘No.’ ‘Did you bring the graphs from the lie detector that says this?’ ‘No.’ ‘Did you bring the lab test results?’ ‘No.’ So, nothing. No supporting evidence. In my mind, these were all not evidence. These are just what somebody’s saying. I could say something and then say I didn’t bring it because I didn’t realize it was important, but when you’re presenting evidence as an expert witness, shouldn’t you bring supporting evidence that proves…

Tracy: … your medical notes, your recording of the interview with the child…

Neil: … but nothing, it was just all in their mind. It was all just hearsay. But somehow that was acceptable so…

Tracy: … but we’ve never been through a court process before. And also from the way the questions were raised during the trial, and I’m not blaming the judges or anything, but just the nature of the questions indicated that perhaps they already had an idea in their head. There were a lot of very leading questions and it gave you the impression that they’d sort of already made their minds up, at the beginning of the trial, that Ferdi and Neil were guilty. And the signs were all along the way, and that’s why I said we were expecting a guilty verdict, and there was a lot of public pressure. So we were learning a lot of how things work in Indonesia and we were hopeful but also had some sense it might not be good.

Sisca: What was most hurtful was from the sexologist Naek L. Tobing, whose testimony became the basis for the judges handing down a 10-year sentence…

Ferdi: … From an interview that was less than 30 minutes with each one of us, Neil and I…

Sisca: … the basis of the verdict that concluded from the interview that our marriage is too perfect and our sexual relationship is too good, so clearly he has sexual disorder…

Ferdi: … that I’m clearly gay. Neil is having less, so he’s gay, too.

Neil: He’s too much, I’m too little, so we’re both gay. He also based his conclusions not on the interview that he did with us, but by looking at the medical report that the police doctors had submitted on both of us, which was not submitted to the court as evidence. It was just the report, not the evidence. So he’s basing his conclusions on an opinion of a doctor that didn’t present any of the evidence.

Tracy: He even thought Ferdi had five kids. [Ferdi and Sisca have two children.]

Neil: There were just so many irregularities about that and to judge somebody based on a 30-minute interview when we’re suspects, we’re coming in with our handcuffs, in orange prison shirts sitting in the police station... He’s been brought in by the police; I’m not quite sure how much nonjudgmental opinion that he’s been given … with all the media attention that’s already been there. And we’re already in detention.

Tracy: He’s already been told that Neil and Ferdi are both suspected pedophiles. So he’s already got an idea in his mind. Everybody had their idea in their mind of the way that the first mother went public. I wonder if it would’ve been a very different investigation if it never went public. But she went public, although the school intended to stay private as per their request which was to keep it private and protect the child, allow the investigation to go forward.

Neil: But then within those two weeks after the police named us suspects, she’s already gone to the city town hall with over 200 people. She has a press conference, she was also on a TV show and she’s lodged a public investigation, basically. So I’m not so sure if any of those things are in line with the protection of the best interest of the child.

Ferdi: It was also a closed trial and I never understood how a trial goes. But I noticed many irregularities throughout the trial process. The experts didn’t submit any evidence. There was one time we went on about lie detector result from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but when we asked for the graph, they didn’t have it with them because the judge never asked them to submit it. So I’m clueless about the trial process, but seeing that, I became pessimistic but still hopeful that there would be justice. Also hoping that justice in Indonesia still prevails. But when the verdict was read, I wasn’t entirely shocked.

Tracy: I think cases like this are extremely sensitive and I think a lot of people have a lot to learn from how the case was handled and I’m not speaking exclusively about Indonesia; I’m saying in general. These types of case are extremely sensitive and there’s a lot of work being done in the child protection area, and interviewing children. There’s been a lot of work done worldwide. My friends are psychologists and professionals and I think that, and I would hope that, this case will allow for changes to be made. Perhaps some improvements in the process of investigation so that you won’t end up in a situation whereby innocent people are convicted of crimes that never happened.

What kind of evidence did they use against you?

Tracy: I think it’s more important to focus on what they didn’t use. So, in particular I think when we were there listening to the reading of the verdict, the exculpatory evidence was waived. All of the defense witnesses and the Singapore medical results were waived. So how can you possibly have a consideration when all of the evidence that the defense brings is waived? It’s completely one-sided, the evidence was completely waived. It was impossible to fight back in a case where unfortunately the indictment doesn’t give a specific time or place, so there’s no opportunity for an alibi. It happened sometime, somewhere between January 2013 and March 2014 somewhere in the school or maybe in South Jakarta…

Neil: … but at least in South Jakarta it happened...

Tracy: … but you can’t. There’s no opportunity for your lawyer to make a proper defense when the allegations are so vague. They’re so vague because it didn’t happen.

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