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Jakarta School Sex Abuse Verdicts Come Under Fire
From the Wall Street Journal of Tue, 23 Dec 2014 06:40:35 EST
Former janitor Zainal Abidin is escorted by police.
Former janitor Zainal Abidin is escorted by police. Associated Press

JAKARTA, Indonesia—The U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and international business and human rights groups called Tuesday for independent inquiries into court verdicts and allegations of police torture after five janitors at a prestigious international school were found guilty of sexually assaulting a kindergarten boy.

The demands came as related trials got underway for two educators at the same school—a Canadian and an Indonesian—who are charged with sexually assaulting the same boy and two others in cases that have focused attention on the country’s justice system and gripped the expatriate community.

In unusually direct diplomatic language, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Robert O. Blake said that foreign investors and governments were closely watching the cases and that they “raise serious questions about the standards of evidence applied."

“The outcome of these cases and what it reveals about the rule of law in Indonesia will have a significant impact on Indonesia’s reputation abroad,” Mr. Blake said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.

Five janitors were found guilty Monday of raping a kindergarten boy multiple times in a restroom at the Jakarta International School, now called the Jakarta Intercultural School.

Four of them confessed to police but later recanted, saying they were tortured. The judges ruled the confessions valid based on testimony from a police investigator who denied any coercion took place.

The judges also cited the testimony of one doctor who said the fact that medical examinations had found no bodily damage didn't rule out the possibility that the boy had been raped. Three separate examinations didn't find evidence of sodomy.

The men were each sentenced to eight years in prison. The fifth defendant, a woman who always asserted her innocence and never claimed torture, received seven years.

Attorneys for the janitors said that they would appeal against the verdicts.

The victim’s family declined to comment Tuesday. They have filed a $125 million civil suit against the school.

Ambassador Blake called on the government to examine the torture claims.

“We are also concerned about the defense claims that police used violence against these defendants to extract confessions, and we hope that the appropriate agencies will investigate those claims,” Mr. Blake said. “The international community here, foreign investors, and foreign governments are all following this case and the case involving the JIS teachers very closely.”

Lin Neumann, incoming head of the American Chamber of Commerce, said the verdicts should be scrutinized by an independent body or in a well-documented appeal, adding that questions raised about the justice system cast a shadow over doing business in Indonesia.

Mr. Neumann said the school is an important institution for the foreign business community as well as Indonesia. The U.S. embassy was a co-founder and many expatriates, diplomats and wealthy Indonesians send their children there.

The business community, Mr. Neumann said, is worried that the rule of law doesn't always prevail in Indonesia. “This is a big concern to investors,” he said.

A government spokesperson wasn't immediately available for comment.

National police spokesman Agus Rianto rejected criticism of the police investigation, saying the judges’ rulings validate their handling of the case.

“The police didn’t randomly name them suspects and bring them to court,” he said. “All arguments have been tested during the trials. The verdicts have been made that they are guilty. It means all of the procedures taken by the police were correct.”

Prosecutors and the five judges who presided over the trials haven't commented on the verdicts. Judges have the authority to accept a confession as valid despite a defendant’s claims of coercion.

Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch in Jakarta criticized the court’s decision to accept the confessions without investigating the allegations of torture, including in the case of a sixth janitor, Azwar, who died during a break in his interrogation. Police said he committed suicide by drinking floor cleaner and have denied that he was tortured. Defense photos introduced into evidence and reviewed by the Journal showed the dead man’s face bruised and cut.

“It should raise a hell of a question,’’ Mr. Harsono said.

Testimony began Tuesday in the trials of the two educators, Canadian school administrator Neil Bantleman and Indonesian teacher’s aide Ferdinand Tjiong, who are charged with sexually abusing the same boy and two others. They deny committing any crime.

Tracy Bantleman, Mr. Bantleman’s wife, expressed hope that her husband and Mr. Tjiong would receive fair trials from the three judges hearing their cases, none of whom participated in the trials of the janitors.

The trials are held behind closed doors because they involve children. The educators’ trials are expected to last months.

— I Made Sentana contributed to this article

Write to Richard Paddock at

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