Canadian teacher, Indonesian teaching assistant to appeal convictions for child sexual abuse

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — A Canadian teacher and an Indonesian teaching assistant plan to file appeals next week after they were sentenced to 10 years in jail on charges of sexually abusing three children at a prestigious international school in Jakarta, lawyers said Friday.

Neil Bantleman, 45, and Ferdinant Tjiong were convicted on Thursday of violating Indonesia's child protection law. They maintain their innocence as do fellow teachers and the principal at the Jakarta International School, now the Jakarta Intercultural School.

The case against the defendants was not water-tight. A medical examination of one of the children at a hospital in Singapore found no evidence of sodomy, but the defense did not have the original report and presented a copy instead. Indonesian courts cannot accept copies as legal documents. Prosecutors used a report on a medical exam conducted by a police hospital in Jakarta, which implicated the defendants.

Presiding judge Nur Aslam Bustaman acknowledged that the court heard contradictory medical reports but said they had no option but to ignore the Singapore report.

The South Jakarta District Court judges' panel also ordered Bantleman and Tjiong to pay a fine of $7,700 or serve six more months in jail.

The verdict said the Bhayangkara police hospital examination of the three children showed signs of sodomy and psychological examination showed the victims, now 6 and 7 years old, did not lie about what happened.

Adrianus Meliala, a law expert and criminologist, said what has been done by the defendant met all the elements of child rape and that the children had been scared by ruses and threats.

"Obviously, they have committed rape of a child under terms of Indonesian law," Meliala said.

But lawyers representing Bantleman and Tjiong contended that the case was full of fabrication since medical reports from three different hospitals in Jakarta and Singapore showed no major injuries or abnormalities in the three children.

Bantleman's lawyer Hotman Paris Hutapea said the Singapore hospital would only release a copy of its examination finding no evidence of sodomy. He pledged to provide more comprehensive evidence — possibly the original document from Singapore — in the appeal to the higher court.

The principal and a number of other teachers have alleged the case is a blackmail attempt. The parents of one of the children have sued the school for alleged negligence and are seeking $125 million in compensation.

"The rape claims were all about money," Hutapea said Friday.

The Jakarta Intercultural School 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.

The arrests of Bantleman and Tjiong last July following reports from parents of a 6-year-old boy who claimed to have been sodomized in April, and police arrested five janitors who worked at the school on charges of child sexual assault.

Four male janitors were sentenced to eight years, while a woman received seven years as an accomplice. Police said a sixth suspect killed himself in custody by drinking bathroom cleanser.

The school was also shaken last year over news that an American who taught there from 1992 to 2002, William Vahey, had killed himself as the FBI was investigating whether he sexually abused scores of teenage boys during a 40-year career at 10 international schools across four continents.

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