Canadian jailed over Indonesian school sex abuse

2nd April 2015, Comments 0 comments

A Canadian man was jailed for 10 years Thursday for sexually abusing children at an elite Jakarta international school, sparking anger from supporters who say he is innocent as well as concern over the rule of law in Indonesia.

In a courtroom packed with supporters, administrator Neil Bantleman, who also holds British nationality, was found guilty of abusing three young boys at the Jakarta Intercultural School, which has for decades been favoured by expatriates and wealthy Indonesians in the capital.

Also standing trial for abusing the children is Ferdinand Tjiong, an Indonesian teaching assistant at the school. A verdict on his case was to be handed down later Thursday.

Both men have strongly denied committing abuse, and received backing from the school, parents, and the international community. Their supporters have said the case is deeply flawed and motivated by a bid by one alleged victim's family to get compensation from the school.

Following the verdict, Canada and Britain called for the authorities to follow due legal process, while America said it was "deeply disappointed" and warned the verdict could damage Indonesia's reputation abroad.

After nine hours reading the verdict at South Jakarta District Court, presiding judge Nur Aslam said that Bantleman was guilty of abusing the children.

"The defendant did not admit his crime or express regret for his deeds, nor did he apologise for what he did, which psychologically damaged underage children," she said.

He was sentenced to 10 years in jail and ordered to pay a fine of 100 million rupiah ($7,700). 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 Bantleman said that she was "deeply disturbed and appalled by the decision of the panel of judges. They have absolutely, utterly ignored evidence in support of my husband".

- 'Lack of credible evidence' -

The scandal, which erupted in April last year with accusations of abuse levelled at cleaning staff, has sparked deep unease among Jakarta's expatriate community and foreign governments alike.

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."

The British Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement there were "concerns about irregularities in this case", while Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said that Canada had "called for a fair and transparent trial throughout the judicial process".

Accusations of assault at the school -- formerly known as the Jakarta International School -- initially sparked horror among the expatriate community, but the focus soon shifted to what supporters say was an unfair attempt to target Bantleman and Tjiong by Indonesia's notoriously corrupt police and judicial system.

Supporters have accused police of a botched investigation, and point to unfair trials, which the judge closed to the public as they involved children. The court was open to the public for the reading of the verdicts.

The prosecution insists that the testimony of the alleged victims, all boys, is the truth and that their claims are backed up by evidence from medical examinations.

However, the defence argues the medical exams were flawed.

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 $125 million in compensation from the school.


© 2015 AFP

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