RI draws ire over teachers' verdict
The Jakarta Post
Jakarta, posted: Sat, April 4, 2015 | 09:16 am
Controversial verdicts: Jakarta International School (JIS) teachers Neil Bentleman (left) and Ferdinant Tjiong await their court hearing at the South Jakarta District Court on Friday. Judges sentenced Bentleman and Tjiong to 10 years in prison and fined them Rp 100 million each for sexual assault. (JP/Awo)
The US, Canada and the UK have voiced concerns over the convictions of Canadian Neil Bantleman, 45, who also holds British nationality, and Indonesian Ferdinant Tjiong, 42, for sexually abusing children attending an elite Jakarta international school, arguing the trial was plagued by irregularities and a lack of transparency.
The South Jakarta District Court sentenced the two teachers on Thursday to 10 years in prison and imposed a Rp 100 million (US$7,695) fine for the repeated abuse of three Jakarta International School (JIS) students.
US Ambassador to Indonesia Robert Blake said the international community had been following the case closely and that the outcome of the legal process and what it revealed about the rule of law in Indonesia would have a significant impact on Indonesia's reputation abroad.
'Any case involving allegations of child abuse is sensitive. Serious questions have arisen in this case regarding the investigative process and the lack of credible evidence against the teachers. In light of this, we are deeply disappointed by the outcome,' said Blake in a statement.
'We look forward to the next step in the legal process in which we hope all the available facts in the case will be considered,' he added.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson, quoted by AFP, said Canada had 'called for a fair and transparent trial throughout the judicial process'.
The British embassy in Jakarta said it was 'aware of concerns about irregularities' in the case, and that it was disappointed it was denied access to Bantleman during the trial.
Among the irregularities was a claim made by a psychologist that a 'magic stone' was used by Bantleman to molest one of the victims. Such a stone was never presented by police or prosecutors as evidence.
The judges have also made the trial off-limits to the public, and prohibited any related parties in the trial from making statements to the media in an effort to maintain the trial's 'privacy'.
Bantleman and Ferdinant were implicated in April last year after police expanded their investigation into the sexual abuse of a boy, M, at the hands of six cleaners hired by the school from PT ISS Indonesia.
One of the cleaners allegedly committed suicide while in police custody, while five others were sentenced to seven and eight years' imprisonment in December.
Aside from the parents of M, Bantleman and Ferdinant were reported by the parents of two other students, A, and D. However, only M's parents sued JIS for negligence. They are seeking US$125 million in damages.
An examination by a Singapore hospital of A found no evidence of abuse, while an examination of D was carried out at the police hospital and could not be verified by independent institutions.
Presiding judge Nur Aslam Bustaman argued there was sufficient evidence proving Bantleman and Ferdinant repeatedly abused the three boys between January 2013 and March 2014.
Judges also argued that the harsh punishment was imposed because the two failed to admit their wrongdoing and had shown no remorse.
Nur said the judges were uninfluenced by media reports that aimed to sway public opinion in support of the defendants.
'The same goes with the representatives of foreign countries who tried to supervise our hearing. They have violated the territorial principal of our judicial system,' she said.
'They have shown attempts to intimidate us,' she claimed.
In the verdict, Nur also said Bantleman's sex life was abnormal, as he and his wife had sex 'only' once in a week, 'while a normal couple would have had it every day, or two-to-three times a week'.
Bantleman and Ferdinant have voiced plans for appealing the verdict.
'I will continue to fight for the truth,' Bantleman said to his supporters' applause. He described the verdict as a 'complete miscarriage of justice'.
Tracy Bantleman said her husband had been wrongly convicted, and that the judges had ignored all the evidence presented in the trial.
'My husband and Ferdinant are victims of a malicious make-believe story with a multi-million dollar price tag,' she said, referring to the $125 million suit.
JIS, attended by children of foreign diplomats, expatriates and the Jakarta elite, found itself in the spotlight last year over reports that William Vahey, an American who taught at the school from 1992 to 2002, had killed himself amid an FBI investigation into allegations of his sexual abuse of teenage boys during a 40-year career at 10 international schools across four continents.
Several irregularities surrounding the verdict
1. The panel of judges prohibited the public from accessing information during the trial, arguing that trials involving an underage person must be held behind closed doors. The judges have gone further, prohibiting any related parties from making statements to the media to maintain the trial's 'privacy'.
2. The so-called magic stone was never presented by police or prosecutors as evidence, nor were Bantleman or Ferdinant ever shown it. One psychologist said the 'magic stone' had been inserted into the anus of a boy so that he would feel no pain while being molested.
3. The judges dismissed a medical report issued by a hospital in Singapore in May 2014 stating that there were no signs of sexual assault present in one of the victims who was examined. The report was certified by the High Court of Singapore in February 2015.
4. The abuses were said to have been carried out in one of the school's rooms with an open and transparent glass wall during school hours.