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Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
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View point: The JIS '€˜sex abuse'€™ kangaroo court and the rape of Indonesian democracy

  • Julia Suryakusuma

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Wed, April 22, 2015 | 06:35 am

Kangaroos are weird-looking but pretty amazing animals best known for their hopping locomotion and joey pouches. So I reckon they'€™re getting a bad wrap with the term '€œkangaroo court'€.

No, it'€™s not about the lustful behavior of marsupials '€” it'€™s a term used for a sham trial that has the appearance of being fair and just, when in fact the verdict has been predetermined. Ostensibly the term comes from the notion of justice proceeding by '€œleaps'€.

Judging from the trial of the Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) sex abuse case, it certainly seems apt to slap the '€œkangaroo court'€ epithet on it. The absurdity of the Kafkaesque trial and the questionable conviction produced, certainly gives the distinct impression that the court may have been influenced by someone.

Was there someone else behind the mother of the 6-year-old child who instigated the case? Who in fact had the idea to crank up the demand from US$12 million in damages to $125 million? Was the $125 million figure plucked out of the blue, or does it just happen to correspond to the value of the prime property that the JIS premises are currently located on? Is it really about child sex abuse, or is it about grown-up money and property to try to leverage the possible closure of the school?

Is it possible that a mother could coach a child to testify in a certain way? However, it would be a bit naïve to think she could tell the police how to conduct the case and instruct them to ignore every single internationally accepted investigative protocol. It'€™s even more ludicrous to think that she could command the court to abrogate legal procedure without some very powerful movers and shakers behind the whole thing.

None of the so-called evidence presented in court met any internationally accepted standards. It reminds me of the good old days of the authoritarian New Order when '€œproof'€ could be produced, and '€œtruth'€ fabricated at the behest of those in power, naturally. Plus ça change, it seems huh?

Guilty verdicts were handed down to five cleaners and two teachers for the sexual abuse of two JIS pupils.

In December last year, four of the cleaners (Zainal Abidin, Syahrial, Agun Iskandar and Virgiawan Amin) were sentenced to eight years'€™ imprisonment, while Afrischa Setyani, the only woman, got seven years. Azwar, the sixth suspect, allegedly committed suicide during investigations. I read there were bruises on his dead body. Hmm, I wonder how they got there? Torture? The police? Naaah, impossible!

Then after a 12-month so-called '€œlegal'€ process, on April 2, the two teachers, Neil Bantleman, 45, and Ferdinant Tjiong, 42, were each sentenced to 10 years'€™ imprisonment and a Rp 100 million ($7,700) fine to conclude a much-criticized trial.

The families of those sentenced are devastated by the verdict. When Bantleman'€™s wife Tracy told me '€œIt'€™s like being hit by a train and you haven'€™t even crossed the tracks,'€ I am sure she was speaking on behalf of the other families as well, some of which also have kids.

Media coverage by both national and international media has been massive '€” just Google '€œJIS sex abuse'€ and you'€™ll get a deluge of stuff. Oh, there'€™s also an Indonesian Facebook page called '€œReject the manipulation of the JIS case'€ and a petition to free Bantleman and Ferdinant.

The entire absurd farce would be hilarious if it weren'€™t so tragic and the ramifications so broad, deep and serious, raising many questions and issues.

It raises questions about the Indonesian legal system and the rule of law, which is the basis of human rights and democracy. What guarantee do we have, as citizens, that we will be protected under the law? Anyone can just suddenly be thrown into the slammer, willy-nilly, simply based on (false) allegations and a police report.

Timothy Carr, head of JIS, told me in a personal interview that international schools have been comparing notes and they say they have never seen anything like this. Naturally, they are in support of JIS.

However, national school teachers have also written to JIS, saying that it affects everyone in the teaching profession.

Baseless allegations leveled at teachers and supported by a judicial system without credible evidence, put every educator on the planet, especially male teachers, at risk.

As Carr pointed out, JIS, which was founded in 1951 by a United Nations family, exists to fill a need for an international standard of education. This need obviously still exists for the families of expatriates, including business corporations who invest in Indonesia.

On April 19-21, Indonesia hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF). Obviously Indonesia wanted to use the occasion to woo (or lure?) foreign direct investment (FDI). Business requires legal certainty. The JIS case doesn'€™t exactly inspire confidence in investors.

The other big event running almost concurrently is the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Asian-African Conference. Sure, the aim is to revive the Bandung spirit of Asian and African nations, but its relevance today is to reaffirm the nation'€™s support for the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Surely as the host nation, Indonesia should be a showcase of upholding human rights, which the JIS trial is clearly not.

Bantleman and Ferdinant, and the cleaners are all going to appeal their verdicts, and Sisca, wife of Ferdinant, is planning to file a report with the National Police against five doctors and the parents of the boys who testified against her husband in the sex abuse trial.

There is still a chance to rectify the apparent gross miscarriage of justice in the JIS case. It'€™s imperative that we do so, not just for the sake of the convicted people, but for all our sakes.
_________________

The writer is the author of Julia'€™s Jihad.

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