Indonesian court overturns school abuse convictions

14th August 2015, Comments 0 comments

A Canadian and an Indonesian jailed for sexual abuse at a prestigious Jakarta international school are to be freed after their convictions were overturned, a lawyer said Friday, in a case criticised as riddled with legal errors.

"I'm elated," said an emotional Tracy Bantleman, the wife of school administrator Neil Bantleman, after the news that the Jakarta High Court had cleared the men.

Bantleman, who also holds British nationality, and Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong were jailed for 10 years each in April and ordered to pay a hefty fine after being found guilty of abusing three young children.

The pair maintained their innocence and received backing from the Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) and parents at the institution, with supporters accusing police of a botched investigation and alleging that the men's trials were unfair.

The abuse allegations rocked an institution that had been a favourite with expatriates and wealthy Indonesians in the capital for more than 60 years.

Hopes that the men might be released rose this week after a $125-million sex abuse lawsuit against the school was dismissed. Supporters believe the decision to pursue the men was linked to that suit, which was brought by the mother of an alleged victim.

"This is certainly great news for the entire JIS community and the two teachers, Neil and Ferdi, and their families," lawyer Hotman Paris Hutapea told reporters after receiving news of their acquittals.

"They deserve their freedom after all the suffering and pain that they have experienced as victims of baseless accusations," he added to cheers from family members and supporters.

The lawyer said the High Court decision was made on Monday but he was only notified late Thursday. He said he hoped the men would be freed later Friday after paperwork was processed.

- US welcomes acquittals -

As well as the decision by a Jakarta court to throw out the multi-million-dollar civil suit, the men's case received a boost last month when the Singapore High Court ruled in favour of the pair in a defamation case against the mother of one of the alleged victims.

JIS is backed by the American embassy -- which helped found the school -- and US officials have repeatedly expressed concern about the case, saying it raised questions about the rule of law in Indonesia.

US ambassador to Jakarta Robert Blake said the United States welcomed the men's acquittal.

"The rule of law and an independent judiciary are vital components of any democratic system, and we appreciate the fairness and prudence shown by Jakarta's appeals court," he said in a statement.

The scandal began last year with claims that cleaners committed abuse at the school -- previously known as the Jakarta International School -- before allegations were levelled at Bantleman and Tjiong.

Five cleaners were jailed in December over claims of sexual abuse and remain in prison. Their lawyers claim they are innocent, and several who originally admitted to abuse recanted their confessions, alleging that they were beaten by police.

The expatriate community in Jakarta was initially shocked at the claims of abuse, but horror 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.

Despite the concerns about the case, the prosecution insisted that the testimony of the alleged victims was the truth and that their claims were backed up by medical evidence.

© 2015 AFP

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