An Indonesian court has found Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman and Ferdinant Tjiong, a teaching assistant, guilty of raping three children in a case regarded as rigged to help a plaintiff win a US$125 million lawsuit against the Jakarta Intercultural School.
After the sentence was read, Bantleman said “we will continue to fight until the truth comes out,” before being led away as cheers and wild applause erupted in the courtroom. He said he would appeal the 10-year sentence.
The case has sent shudders through the expatriate community because of the malleability of the South Jakarta district court, considered one of the most corrupt in a one of Asia’s most corrupt legal systems. There are fears that the school, which hosts 2,400 students and 270 teachers, could be closed as the result of the lawsuit, filed by the parent of one of the children who allegedly was raped.
The school’s main campus, opened 60 years ago as the Jakarta International School, now stands on some of Jakarta’s most valuable real estate. Unnamed interests in Jakarta are said to covet the 49 acres of property that the school’s three campuses sit on in the event that it is closed as a result of the lawsuit.
Bantleman and Tjiong were arrested in July. In December, four school janitors who allegedly molested children were given eight years in prison and a fifth, a woman, was given seven years. A sixth janitor was said to have committed suicide in police custody by drinking bathroom cleanser although many believe he was beaten to death. Parents have unequivocally backed both the teachers and the janitors and medical authorities say the rapes never took place.
The evidence is considered so baseless as to be fanciful and defense attorneys say it is connected to the lawsuit. “The judges must consider a US$125 million lawsuit filed by the mother of one of the boys as motive for dragging the teachers into this criminal case,” according to the defense statement, delivered in mid-March.
The unnamed woman who brought the case alleged that her five-year-old son had contracted herpes from the encounter. However, upon examination by medical personnel there was no evidence that the child had herpes and the mother refused to allow further tests.
The case is built on police allegations that the defendants had a “magic stone” that they could pluck out of the sky that supposedly prevented the children from feeling pain during the assaults. The police, however, have never come up with a drug resembling the so-called stone’s existence. The authorities also allege that the assaults took place in a “secret room” that has never been found.
The mother of one alleged victim charged that the rapes had taken place in a room that was used for filing cabinet storage, and in which the administration staff habitually gathered. However, the room was demolished during renovations that took place before the supposed offenses ever took place. One child alleged he was raped multiple times in an open, heavily populated block with glass walls where such an act would be virtually impossible without being seen, and other children, apparently coached by parents and investigators, said there was a secret underground dungeon at the school.
The case has drawn international criticism on charges that the confessions were beaten out of the janitors, who later recanted their statements. US Ambassador Robert O. Blake, in a statement issued last year on the convictions of the janitors, called on the Indonesian government to investigate the allegations of torture. The Canadian and Australian embassies have also issued statements critical of the charges.
“We have been watching this case with great interest,” Blake said. “The protection and welfare of children is of utmost importance to educators, law enforcement, to all of us, and all allegations of abuse must be taken seriously. However, we note with concern that the investigative proceedings of both this case, and the accusations against the JIS teachers, raise serious questions about the standards of evidence applied.”
The evidence trail calls up the tragedy of the specious McMartin preschool trial in California in the 1980s, in which six years of criminal proceedings ended with an acquittal on the basis that the case stemmed from prosecutors coaching the allegedly molested children.