Indonesia’s Supreme Court Overturns Acquittal of International School Teachers Charged with Sex Abuse
Teachers Canadian Neil Bantleman and Indonesian Ferdinant Tjiong – Photo AP
JAKARTA – Indonesia’s top court overturned the acquittals of a Canadian and an Indonesian teacher and ordered longer prison terms for the men for sexually abusing three young children at a prestigious international school in Jakarta, a court official said Thursday.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion said the Canadian government “is deeply dismayed and shocked” by an Indonesian Supreme Court decision to overturn the acquittal of Canadian schoolteacher Neil Bantleman.
“This decision is unjust, given the many grave irregularities throughout the various proceedings in this case and the fact that all evidence presented by the defence has systematically been rejected,” Dion said in a statement early Thursday.
He say Bantleman and Tijong “were not provided the opportunity to demonstrate their innocence, and despite Canada’s repeated calls for due process, he added, “this case was not handled in a fair and transparent manner.”
Dion also warned that the outcome of this case has “serious implications for Indonesia’s reputation as a safe place for Canadians to work, travel and invest as well as for Canada’s long history of co-operation with Indonesia.”
Dion said Canada would continue to raise the case of Bantleman at the highest levels while Canadian officials continue to provide consular assistance to Bantleman.
Neil Bantleman and Ferdinant Tjiong had been sentenced to 10 years last April by the South Jakarta District Court. But they maintained their innocence and filed appeals to the High Court, which acquitted them in August, ruling there was not sufficient evidence to support their conviction.
Supreme Court spokesman Suhadi said a three-member judge panel handed down a verdict Wednesday based on the prosecutors’ appeal.
“The judge panel concluded that the defendants were proven to have violated the 2007 Child Protection Law,” said Suhardi, who uses a single name. “It did not only reinstate the District Court’s verdict but also lengthened the sentence to 11 years.”
The two teachers at the Jakarta International School, now called the Jakarta Intercultural School, also were ordered to pay a fine of $7,440 each or to serve six more months in jail, Suhadi said.
Chandra Saptaji, head of the general crime section at the South Jakarta Prosecutors’ Office, said Tjiong was taken from his house early in the day and was now serving his sentence at the Cipinang Prison in eastern Jakarta.
“We are still looking for Bantleman, who is actually under a ban to leave the country,” Saptaji said. “Hopefully, he is cooperative and complying with Indonesia law.”
U.S. Ambassador Robert O. Blake expressed disappointment over the verdict, saying the outcome of the legal process will impact international views about the rule of law in Indonesia.
“We are shocked and disappointed by the decision announced by the Supreme Court to sentence two international school teachers,” Blake said in a statement. “It is not clear what evidence the Supreme Court used to overturn the High Court’s decision.”
Bantleman and Tjiong were arrested in July 2014 following allegations from parents of a 6-year-old student that he’d been sodomized.
Four male janitors at the school were already sentenced to eight years in prison in that case and a woman received a seven-year prison sentence as an accomplice. Police said a sixth suspect killed himself in custody by drinking bathroom cleaner.
Under Indonesian law, both Bantleman and Tjiong still could challenge the sentence by filing for judicial review by the Supreme Court if they have new evidence.
The South Jakarta District Court threw out a civil lawsuit in which one child’s parents sought $125 million from the school for alleged negligence.
The school in southern Jakarta is attended by children of foreign diplomats, expatriates and Indonesia’s elite. It has 2,400 students aged 3 to 18 from about 60 countries.
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