Jakarta school sex abuse case: 2 cleared

Appeals court overturns the convictions of educators in case involving 3 children

JAKARTA • An Indonesian appeals court has overturned the convictions of two educators who were serving 10-year prison sentences after being found guilty of sexually assaulting children at a prestigious international school, in a case that the school said was fabricated.

Yesterday, the Jakarta High Court ordered the immediate release of Mr Neil Bantleman, a Canadian administrator at the Jakarta Intercultural School, and Mr Ferdinand Tjiong, an Indonesian teaching assistant, said Mr Hotman Paris Hutapea, the men's defence lawyer.

A lower court, the South Jakarta District Court, had convicted the two in April of sexually assaulting three boys in the school's kindergarten programme. Both men have vehemently asserted their innocence, as have five Indonesian janitors convicted of raping students at the school, who remain in prison.

"The judges said that the decision of the district court was totally wrong," Mr Hutapea said yesterday, referring to the appeals court ruling. "They said there was no legal consideration at all of the facts and there was no evidence. It was totally baseless."

Mr Hutapea said he did not know whether prosecutors would appeal against the ruling.

The allegations of sex abuse at the school, then called the Jakarta International School, surfaced last year and shocked the expatriate community, highlighting concerns about the competence and impartiality of Indonesia's judicial system.

The five Indonesian janitors who remain behind bars say they were tortured into confessing. The Jakarta High Court rejected their appeals; their cases are now before the country's Supreme Court. A sixth janitor who was accused committed suicide soon after his arrest.

On Monday, a separate panel of judges at the South Jakarta District Court dismissed a US$125 million (S$175 million) lawsuit against the school filed by the parents of a former pupil, who claimed the child, then six, had been sexually assaulted by educators and janitors. That boy was one of the three named as victims in the criminal case against Mr Bantleman and Mr Tjiong, who have been behind bars since they were arrested in July last year.

The victims' relatives asserted that the two men, along with the school's principal, had drugged and raped the boys and other pupils in the school's administrative offices and that they had videotaped the assaults. No such videotapes were found, and Indonesian police did not question any of the school employees in the administrative offices, which the school says are crowded with teachers and students.

The school has asserted throughout the case that the accusations were false. Students from over 60 countries, including the children of Western diplomats and wealthy Indonesians, attend the school.

Mr Guy Bantleman, brother of the Canadian defendant, said by telephone from Toronto that family members were waiting to receive an official copy of the court ruling but were optimistic that his brother and Mr Tjiong would be released.

"When we see him walking out of jail, that's when it will really hit home," he said.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2015, with the headline 'Jakarta school sex abuse case: 2 cleared'. Print Edition | Subscribe