Sentence Overturned in Jakarta School Sex-Abuse Case
JAKARTA – Canadian Neil Bantleman and Indonesian Ferdinand Tjiong from an elite Jakarta international school were freed from prison Friday after a court overturned sexual-abuse convictions against them.
Neil Bantleman the school administrator and Ferdinand Tjiong a teaching assistant had been sentenced to 10 years in prison in April after being found guilty of sexually abusing three kindergarten-aged children at the Jakarta Intercultural School, formerly known as the Jakarta International School.
Mr. Bantleman outside the prison after his release said “I’m so happy that the truth is out there, Thank you for everybody for doing all the things they did to get us free and expose the truth.”
Prosecutors could appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. Prosecutors didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Hotman Paris Hutapea, a lawyer for the men, said the rulings were overturned because they were “full of flaws, irrational and baseless.”
He added, “Whether the prosecutors will appeal against the verdict is another matter, but for now they must be set free.”
The Jakarta Intercultural School had supported the men against the accusations, and on Friday, its employees union welcomed the court’s decision to overturn the convictions.
Rully Iskandar, head of the union, said in a statement that the decision “confirms that all of the allegations directed [at the school] and the two teachers are completely false and baseless,” describing it as “the culmination of our efforts and struggle for the past 16 months to fight for justice and truth.”
During their trial, the two educators denied wrongdoing. After they were convicted, U .S. Ambassador Robert O. Blake said there were “serious questions” about the handling of the case and lack of evidence.
In a statement on Friday, Mr. Blake said, “The rule of law and an independent judiciary are vital components of any democratic system, and we appreciate the fairness and prudence shown by Jakarta’s appeals court.”
Earlier this week, an Indonesian court rejected a $125 million sexual-abuse lawsuit brought against the school by the parents of one of the children involved in the case. Mr. Bantleman previously said the case was driven by a hope for financial gain; the child’s mother denied this.
The school is regarded as one of the best in the nation and draws students from the families of foreign business executives, diplomats, wealthy Indonesians and government officials.
The verdicts in April capped a yearlong scandal at the school stemming from allegations that cleaning staffers repeatedly assaulted a kindergartner in a restroom.
The school initially reacted with apologies and promises to increase safety but came to believe that the investigation was mishandled and that the allegations were groundless. Sexual-abuse accusations against Messrs. Bantleman and Tjiong followed.
Before a different court in December, five janitors received sentences of up to eight years in prison for sexually abusing the boy, who was the sole complainant in their case. The child was also a complainant in the current case.
Four of the janitors said they were tortured into confessing. A sixth died during a break in his interrogation. Photos introduced at trial showed his face bruised and cut. Police say he committed suicide.
Patra M. Zen, legal counsel for four of the janitors, said Friday that all five are still in jail, and that appeals are still waiting to be heard at the Supreme Court. Appeals were submitted in April and usually take 5-6 months, he said.
In trial against the two educators, the chief judge limited the length of the defense case and restricted time for questioning witnesses.
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