Educators Found Guilty in Sexual Assault of Kindergartners in Indonesia

This case will have huge ramifications for educators in Indonesia, currently we have another two similar cases playing out in other schools, one of them High Scope.And I know of another that has not reached the papers. 

JAKARTA, Indonesia — An Indonesian court on Thursday found a Canadian educator and an Indonesian teaching assistant at one of the country’s most prestigious international schools guilty of sexually assaulting three kindergarten students, after a high-profile trial in which defense lawyers and the school asserted that the entire case had been fabricated.

Neil Bantleman, a guidance counselor at the Jakarta Intercultural School, and Ferdinand Tjiong, the teaching assistant, were sentenced to 10 years in prison by a three-judge panel at the South Jakarta District Court. The four-month trial was held behind closed doors, but the lengthy verdicts were read during public hearing that lasted for hours.

The men’s legal team said they would appeal.

The two men, who have been in custody since July after the parents of three boys filed police complaints against them and a third educator, have vehemently asserted their innocence and filed defamation complaints against the parents of one student.

Dozens of parents and school employees rallied outside the courthouse on Thursday, as they have for weeks, in support of Mr. Bantleman and Mr. Tjiong.

A supporter holds the hand of Mr. Bantleman as he stands inside a holding cell prior to the start of his trial hearing.

Credit: Tatan Syuflana/Associated Press

The case erupted last April, when the Indonesian police arrested a janitor who worked for an outside cleaning company on charges of child sexual assault at the school’s main campus, which includes a high school, middle school and elementary school with about 2,200 students in all. Students from more than 60 countries, including the children of Western diplomats and wealthy Indonesians, attend the school, which is popularly known as J.I.S. and was previously named the Jakarta International School.

The janitor and five other cleaners who were arrested later were accused of having gang-raped a 6-year-old kindergarten student sometime in March 2014, in a student bathroom less than 30 feet from the boy’s classroom.

Five janitors were found guilty of child sexual assault and were sentenced to prison terms ranging up to eight years; the sixth committed suicide shortly after his arrest, the police said. The five janitors maintain their innocence, saying that the police had tortured them until they confessed.

Two months after the allegations against the janitors became public, the families of the first boy who came forward and two other boys in the kindergarten program filed complaints with the police claiming that members of the school’s teaching staff had sexually assaulted their children.

They said that Mr. Bantleman and Mr. Tjiong, as well as the elementary school’s American principal, Elsa Donohue, had drugged and raped the children and other students in the school’s administrative offices, and that they had videotaped the assaults. Ms. Donohue has not been detained or charged with any offense, and no videotapes of the alleged assaults were ever found.

The mother of one of the two other boys claimed that Mr. Bantleman and Mr. Tjiong had also joined the school janitors, who had already been accused, in sexually assaulting her son in the same bathroom. On Thursday, she said in a phone interview, “On one part, there’s relief, but the other part, it’s not enough.” The woman, who has declined to be identified by name to try to protect her child, alleged that more children had been abused and that there were more abusers.

But according to the defense, investigators failed to question any school employees posted near the bathrooms or in the administrative offices, which school officials contend are full of staff members and students throughout the day.

One of the children who said he was assaulted told the police that Mr. Bantleman had conjured a “magic stone” out of thin air to anesthetize the boys and later heal them of their injuries, according to defense lawyers.

On Thursday, Tracy Bantleman, the guidance counselor’s wife, who also works at the school, said of the men: “They absolutely did not get a fair trial. It is obvious from today that this panel of judges made up their minds the day the trial began, and that the last four months has been totally ignored.”

Robert O. Blake, the United States ambassador to Indonesia, said in a statement Thursday that “serious questions have arisen in this case regarding the investigative process and lack of credible evidence against the teachers.” He expressed disappointment in the outcome and added, “We look forward to the next steps in the legal process in which we hope that all the available facts in the case will be considered.”

JAKARTA — Verdicts are expected Thursday in the sex abuse trials of two educators at the Jakarta Intercultural School, a case that has brought intense scrutiny of Indonesia’s judicial system. The trials, which began in December, were closed to the public and the court ordered participants not to speak publicly about proceedings. Defense lawyers say that Canadian administrator Neil Bantleman and Ferdinand Tjiong, an Indonesian teacher’s aide, have been denied due process and that some aspects of the process have not met international standards. Here are five key legal issues:

The Children – The central evidence against the defendants is the testimony of three boys who say they were sexually abused. The boys, about 5 when the alleged abuse occurred, were questioned repeatedly by parents, psychologists and police and were given multiple, sometimes painful, medical exams, defense attorneys say. International experts say such treatment is inappropriate in children’s cases because it can be traumatic in itself. They also say that leading and suggestive questions can result in inaccurate accounts of abuse. University of Toledo Associate Professor Kamala London, who testified for the defense, says the first response children make is usually the most accurate and that if questioned repeatedly, they can develop false accounts based on questions they are asked. When initially questioned, the boys said no abuse occurred, the defense says, but over time, their accounts changed and they made numerous allegations. The defense says the questioning prompted the children to come up with untrue and fantastic accounts of abuse. Video recording of interviews with possible child victims is standard in many countries but not in Indonesia and no videos of the children’s questioning were presented in court.

Polygraph Tests – Messrs. Bantleman and Tjiong were given lie detector tests and the results have been introduced as evidence. The prosecution, in concluding arguments submitted to the court and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, contends that the tests show that both defendants were deceptive when questioned about the alleged abuse. The defense argues the test results were erroneous because the baseline questions were not constructed properly. The prosecution counters that the polygraph examiner is an expert who has successfully questioned terror suspects, among others, “so he won’t be deceived in a case where the perpetrator is just a teacher.”Courts in many countries do not accept polygraph results because the test has not been proven reliable. In Indonesia, polygraph results can be considered as evidence by the three-judge panel.

Police Lineups – The children initially picked out the suspects from school photos presented by parents. Later, the children also picked out Messrs. Bantleman and Tjiong from police lineups. The defense contends the identification process was flawed and that both lineups fell far short of international standards. A photo of Mr. Bantleman’s lineup, which was seen by The Journal, shows him standing in a parking lot alongside two Indonesian men and facing a window. Mr. Bantleman, who is Caucasian and well over 6 feet tall, towers over the other two. The defense says the two Indonesians were police investigators working on the case and that the children knew them. All three are wearing orange jail shirts but the Indonesians are wearing theirs over street clothes. Defense lawyers were not present. The defense says a lineup should include up to eight people not known to the alleged victims and who are similar to the suspect in height and physical description. Police have said they acted appropriately in their investigation.

Eyewitnesses –The prosecution presented no eyewitnesses to the alleged abuse except the children themselves, which is not unusual in child sex abuse cases. Timothy Carr, head of the Jakarta Intercultural School, says that despite the school’s request, the police did not interview dozens of staff members who worked in the area where the alleged abuse occurred and could have testified whether they had seen the suspects and children together. The defense says investigators did not seek exculpatory evidence that might have proven the men’s innocence. Police say they conducted a thorough investigation.

Time Limits – The defense says Chief Judge Nur Aslam Bustaman set arbitrary time limits that kept them from presenting all their evidence. Defense attorneys say they were unable to call all their witnesses and that other defense witnesses were forced to cut their testimony short. Judge Bustaman also imposed a one-hour time limit on cross-examination, which the defense team says prevented them from asking all their questions. The defense says the time limits were imposed after prosecution witnesses, including the mothers of the alleged victims, were allowed to testify at length. The defense also contends that Judge Bustaman’s gag order exceeded her authority. Prosecutors have cited the court order in declining to discuss the proceedings. The judges have declined to speak to The Journal and other media outlets.


About Pak Liam

Living, teaching and traveling in Asia.
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