JAKARTA (AFP) – A Canadian teacher and an Indonesian teaching assistant went on trial Tuesday accused of sexually assaulting children at a prestigious Jakarta school, the most high-profile court cases so far in a long-running affair.
Neil Bantleman and Ferdinand Tjiong deny committing abuse at the Jakarta International School, which has long been favoured by expatriates and wealthy Indonesians in the capital but is now facing the worst crisis in its 60-year history.
They are the most prominent figures caught up in a wide-ranging issue that has also seen cleaning staff accused of raping a young boy and the revelation that a suspected serial paedophile sought by the FBI used to teach at the school.
Bantleman and Tjiong, who face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty, have received strong support from parents, many of whom believe they are innocent. Supporters turned up outside court Tuesday waving banners that read “Free Neil and Ferdi”.
“We are innocent,” Bantleman, a 46-year-old school administrator, told journalists from a holding cell at the court in the Indonesian capital before his trial.
As he entered court, Tjiong said: “I have come here to prove the truth, to end this slander.”
“It’s hard to believe that this case has managed to get this far,” the Canadian’s wife Tracy Bantleman told AFP outside court, adding that the allegations against her husband were “ridiculous” and “illogical”.
After the initial allegation emerged in April that cleaners had raped a nursery school boy, more parents made abuse claims.
The family of one nursery school boy allegedly abused are suing the school and seeking $125 million in damages.
The first trials began in August, with five cleaners facing charges of child sex abuse. However several of the cleaners who originally confessed have since recanted, claiming they were beaten by police.
Their trials are continuing.
At the South Jakarta District Court on Tuesday, Bantleman appeared in court first to hear the charges against him at the start of his trial.
He faces two charges under Indonesian child protection laws, one of which carries a maximum jail term of 15 years according to a charge sheet seen by AFP.
Tjiong appeared in court for a separate hearing after Bantleman.
Under the Indonesian legal system, people accused of a crime are only formally charged in court at the start of a trial.
The current trials will be held behind closed doors.
The crowd of about 60 supporters outside the court mostly consisted of foreign and Indonesian mothers of children at the school.
“They are the victims of slander, we are 1,000 per cent sure. If they were really paedophiles, we would be the first to know,” said Maya Lestari, who has two children at the school and was coordinating the rally.