Indonesia’s Twisted Justice System and Innocent Defendants

The Indonesian government’s quiet release of Neil Bantleman, an administrator at an elite Jakarta international school who was put through a bizarre sex abuse trial in a corrupt judicial system has done nothing to solve the mystery of why he and others were charged in the first place.

The case, transparently baseless, was widely believed to been brought in 2014 for the economic benefit of the alleged victims' parents and unknown others. The suit against the defendants and the Jakarta Intercultural School for the equivalent of US$125 million depended on a guilty verdict. The case was previously dismissed but a civil case has been re-filed in February of this year.

The case is a textbook illustration of the corruption of the Indonesian judicial system. GAN, the business anti-corruption portal, says that while the system is nominally independent, “bribes are taken at all levels, including in court verdicts and appeals” and that corruption “limits the system’s professionalism and objectivity.”

Bantleman, a Canadian, and Indonesian educator Ferdinant Tjiong, along with six janitors were accused of raping three kindergarten children at the school, known as JIS, where 270 teachers educate 2,400 students from 60 different nationalities, many of them children of elite expatriate and Indonesian business families.

Bantleman and Ferdinant were sentenced to 10 years in prison, while the five janitors were sentenced to 7-8 years after reportedly being beaten into confessions. A sixth janitor died in detention, strongly suspected of being tortured by police during the investigation. Bantleman was released temporarily in 2015 after a high court annulled the ruling. But he was again arrested on February 2016 after the Supreme Court reaffirmed the court's first ruling and increased his sentence to 11 years. On August 14, 2017, the Supreme Court rejected his Judicial Review.

From the first, the case, filed in 2014, has been regarded as deeply suspicious. The allegations came to light based on a claim by a boy’s mother who said her son had contracted herpes after being sodomized in the school bathroom. But laboratory and medical reports submitted to the court found no evidence of the herpes simplex virus. When Nairain Punjabi, the doctor who first examined the boy, asked the mother to bring him back for further tests, she never returned. Nonetheless, she used the inconclusive tests as the basis for a criminal complaint and lawsuit.

The children were apparently coached to deliver reports of being raped in all-glass rooms during the day when detection would have been inescapable, of being put under spells when shown a magic stone, of being told to drink “light blue water,” and other bizarre revelations.

After exhausting all legal avenues, Bantleman filed a request for a pardon with President Joko Widodo on February 2018. He waited for more than a year until, finally, Jokowi granted his request on June 19. Bantleman, who only served half of his sentence, quietly left prison two days after the pardon was issued, leading to speculation that he had been released secretly. He left shortly thereafter for Canada.

There was no news about the fate of the other defendants. Indonesia gives the president the prerogative for pardons, including as an improvement in the implementation of laws that are deemed unfair, serious illness of the defendant, and for the national interest. There is no rule for the president to announce the reasons.

Since winning the 17 April presidential election, Jokowi has at least three times given pardons and amnesty to defendants who allegedly have gone through trials for heresy. Besides Bantleman, the other two are Baiq Nuril, a woman who was convicted of defamation against her sexual harasser, and two farmers in Kendal District, Central Java, related to an agrarian conflict.

Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko said the president had considered various matters before giving clemency to Bantleman, including humanitarian factors and public aspirations. "I think humanitarian issues are the main thing," He said.

Bantleman said in a statement that he had reunited with his family in Ontario, Canada after the Indonesian government forgave him for actions he had never committed. "Five years ago, I was wrongfully accused and convicted of crimes I did not commit and furthermore never occurred," Said Bantleman. "I applied for clemency, which I am pleased was granted by Indonesia last month, upholding essential justice and human rights."

Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) activists Putri Kanesia believe Bantleman is innocent and therefore deserved to be released. She said her organization in 2015 investigated the JIS case and found that there had been "a miscarriage of justice," a failure of a court or judicial system to attain the ends of justice, especially one that results in the conviction of an innocent person.

"We concluded that the case was fabricated," Kanesia said. "Considering the judicial process continues to be forced even though the evidence is weak, Bantleman should have been free,"

KontraS together with the Indonesian Judicial Monitoring Society (MaPPI) found at least three violations in the trial that violated formal law, unfulfillment of material law, and unprotected children's interests.

KontraS concluded that the accusations and evidence were weak. The judge decided the case was only based on the victim's confession, without any witnesses who saw the incident firsthand. The judge also ignored the lack of evidence from the victim's medical examination, including an examination at Women's and Children's Hospital in Singapore, which stated that the condition of the child’s rectum was normal and uninjured.

Even though the lack of results of the examination became the basis for a Singapore to award the teachers compensation for defamation committed by the child’s mother including US$230,000 to Bantleman, Ferdinant and the school, the Jakarta courts refused to vacate the convictions.

Kanesia said KontraS found the police had tortured the janitors into confession. "One suspect died during the investigation," Kanesia said.

That janitor, Azwar, was found dead inside a jail toilet with an open bathroom cleanser by his side. Police claimed the janitor committed suicide by drinking the cleaning liquid. However, the Azwar family testified -- strengthened with photo showing that Azwar had been tortured into claiming the children had been sodomized.

The cause of Azwar’s death remains unknown officially since the police refused to do an autopsy. Other suspects also claimed to have been tortured by police. The harsh methods are often used by Indonesian police during interrogation. For example, KontraS found 57 cases of police torture between June 2018 and May 2019.

KontraS concluded that the victim was coached by his mother and the police to reconstruct the alleged crime. Children's rights were also violated because they were forced to testify as if sexual violence had taken place, given the enormous public pressure at that time, resulting in severe punishment for the school personnel.

Forensic psychologist-criminologist, Reza Indragiri Amriel in an interview with in 2015 said sexual violence at JIS never happened. Amriel, who examined the children, said they were more likely to have experienced psychological violence by people close to them rather than JIS personnel.

Amriel told Asia Sentinel that although he believed the suspects were not guilty, the court's decision was final. "Judges' decisions must be considered correct and must be respected," he said.

Money Behind the Case?

A parent of one of the victims, who was named only by her initials claimed not to have been notified by the court regarding Bantleman’s clemency, only learning of it from the media. Bantleman, she said, should have admitted his crime to receive clemency.

"The requirement for granting clemency is an acknowledgment of guilt. As far as I know, he (Bantleman) has never pleaded guilty. How can he get clemency?" she said.

The authorities, she said, should have told her of his freedom because she is suing Bantleman, JIS and the other defendants worth Rp1.7 trillion in the South Jakarta District Court. Her first lawsuit was rejected. When the case began in 2014, she and other victim's parents sued the janitors for the equivalent of US$12 million, increasing to US$125 million when the two teachers were named suspects.

The emergence of material claims raised suspicion that the case was deliberately created for the economic benefit of the victims' parents and an unknown real estate company believed to intend to covet the valuable land on the school’s three campuses in suburban Jakarta although no such company has emerged.

The suspects’ lawyer, Hotman Paris Hutapea, accused the parents’ attorney, OC Kaligis, of fabricating the case, advising the victims’ parents to report the two teachers to the police to make their accusations stronger and to obtain more compensation.

Kaligis, the lead lawyer, was later jailed on bribery charges against a North Sumatra Court judge, leading to insistence that he should be investigated for other cases he handled, including the possibility of bribery against law enforcers handling the JIS case.

The author of this report asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.