Two Jakarta International School teachers, Neil Bentleman, right, and Ferdinant Tjiong, left, were each handed 10-year prison terms on Thursday by a South Jakarta court for sexually abusing three boys. (Antara Foto/Muhammad Adimaja)

JIS Abuse Case Tarnishes Nation: Diplomatic Corps


APRIL 03, 2015

Jakarta. US Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr., says he is “deeply disappointed” in the conviction of two teachers for child sexual abuse despite “serious questions [...] regarding the investigative process and lack of credible evidence against the teachers.”

Neil Bantleman, a Canadian national, and Indonesian citizen Ferdinand Tjiong were each handed 10-year prison terms on Thursday by a South Jakarta court for sexually abusing three boys at the Jakarta Intercultural School, previously known as the Jakarta International School.

In a statement published on its website, the US Embassy, one of the school’s three founding embassies, called on the Indonesian government to facilitate a “fair and impartial” appeal.

“We look forward to the next steps in the legal process in which we hope that all the available facts in the case will be considered,” the statement said.

“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.”

Indonesia’s legal system is frequently the subject of concern both at home and abroad.

A frequently cited example is the case of the disgraced former Supreme Court chief justice Akil Mochtar, who was found last year to have accepted large bribes in exchange for favorable rulings. He was, however, jailed for life.

Miscarriage of justice

The South Jakarta District Court ruled on Thursday that Bantleman and Tjiong were guilty of abusing boys in their care, on the basis of allegations, inter alia, that a “magic stone” was conjured from the air and used as a sodomitic implement.

In addition to the prison sentences, Bantleman and teaching assistant Tjiong were each ordered to pay a Rp 100 million ($7,700) fine.

Both have maintained their innocence and say they will appeal the verdicts.

Supporters of the two men claim there is no medical or other evidence to suggest the young students were sexually abused, but judges found otherwise.

“This is a complete miscarriage of justice,” Bantleman said in a statement. “We’ll continue to fight and appeal until the truth comes out, and the truth is that Ferdi and I never abused those kids.”

Last July, a mother stepped forward accusing Bantleman and Tjiong of sexually abusing her son in the school’s administrative office. She also claimed the kindergarten principal had videotaped the assault.

The accusations against the two followed another sexual abuse investigation centering on a group of six janitors, who were accused of raping a 6-year-old boy in a school bathroom.

In December, five janitors were found guilty in this case, and were sentenced to prison terms of up to eight years. Prosecutors had demanded 10-year sentences in their case. Lawyers for the janitors said at the time that they would file appeals.

One among the group of janitors died in police custody, allegedly by suicide, before he could go on trial.

The teachers have said that the decision to prosecute them revolved around a separate civil lawsuit filed by the family of one of the alleged victims demanding $125 million in compensation from the school.

The court started reading the verdict against Bantleman on Thursday morning, but the process took until almost 6 p.m., due in part to the fact that an English translation was also read out, to help Bantleman understand.

The presiding judge, Nur Aslam Bustaman, also on several occasions had to call for order in the spectators’ gallery.

Passing judgement on Bantleman, she said: “The defendant did not admit to his crime or express regret for his deeds, nor did he apologize for what he did, which psychologically damaged underage children.”

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 against him.

Lack of transparency

The Canadian Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement that there were “concerns about irregularities in this case,” noting its consular staff were prevented from attending the trial.

Under the Vienna Conventions, to which Indonesia is party, consular staff have the right to visit a national of their state who is arrested, detained, or pending trial. More comprehensive rights to consular assistance are routinely guaranteed when countries exchange notes of diplomatic recognition, as Canada and Indonesia did on Oct. 9, 1952.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said 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 were closed to the public, ostensibly because the cases involved children.

The prosecution insists the victim’s testimony is the truth, supported by evidence from medical examinations.

But 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 from feeling pain.

Critics also cited a lack of transparency in the proceedings, including a court order banning both sides from speaking to the media.

“We are very concerned about the impact of this proceeding on the rule of law and legal certainty,” said A. Lin Neumann, managing director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Jakarta, before the verdict. “Foreign investors, Americans in particular, have been watching very carefully,” he said.

Not enough for some

But a prominent child rights activist said on Thursday that prosecutors should have demanded harsher sentences.

Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas PA), said the 2002 Child Protection Law called for a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, and a minimum of five.

“If we look at the future impact on children who experience sexual violence, I think this isn’t fair,” Arist said at the South Jakarta District Court. “We’re not getting the most out of this law.”

Arist added that he would have preferred a life sentence for people convicted of child abuse. “Of course the innocent should not be convicted, but for the guilty I want the maximum punishment.”

Additional reporting from Agence France-Presse & Reuters