A sexologist whose evidence was used to help jail a Canadian teacher on child abuse charges in Indonesia has cast doubt on the verdict, amid growing calls for police to reopen their investigation.
- Canadian teacher, his assistant and five cleaners all given jail terms for allegedly abusing children
- Evidence hinged on how many times a week teacher had sex with his wife
- One of the male cleaners died in police custody
Seven staff from the Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) are serving lengthy jail terms for allegedly sexually abusing kindergarten children.
Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman, his Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong and five school cleaners were sentenced to jail terms of up to 11 years.
But it has now emerged that part of the evidence against Bantleman hinged on how many times a week he had sex with his wife — with the court saying he was “abnormal” because it was only once a week.
It is also alleged that of the six cleaners, five were beaten into making confessions, while one female colleague was not harmed and never confessed.
One of the male cleaners died in police custody.
Now a former commissioner at a peak police integrity body has told Foreign Correspondent the investigation into the allegations was flawed, while a former Australian detective brought in to investigate the case says he is certain the men are innocent.
Doubt over court’s ‘deviant sexual behaviour’ claim
Judges from the South Jakarta District Court who brought down the initial guilty verdict against the two teachers in part relied on evidence from Indonesian sexologist Dr Naek Tobing.
The doctor was used by the prosecution to assess whether Mr Bantleman’s sex life caused him to become a paedophile.
The initial judgement found that the Canadian’s sex life with his wife was “abnormal” because they had sex about once a week and sometimes less.
In their ruling, the panel of District Court judges found that “normally it happens every day or at least two or three time per week”, and that “usually men would at least masturbate but he doesn’t do it”.
“The question is exactly how he channelled his sexual needs,” the judges said.
They concluded the Canadian had a “deviant sexual behaviour” and that his actions could be classified as “inclusive paedophilia”.
But when interviewed by Foreign Correspondent, Dr Tobing said he had found nothing during his interviews with Mr Bantleman or his assistant Mr Tjiong that could determine whether the men were paedophiles.
“This testimony cannot relate to someone to be a paedophile,” he said
“Even less than once a week we cannot make it as data to call them a paedophile. It needs data or — what do you call? … A confession.”
‘Biased adults putting stories into the minds of children’
Former Australian detective Chris O’Connor said there was no evidence the three kindergarten boys were raped or that any of the seven people now in jail were guilty.
“It’s not the case of children making up stories, it’s a case of biased adults putting stories into the minds of children,” he said.
“Once a child takes on a false report much of the research we have here indicated that a large number of children will embellish the false report.”
Mr O’Connor was employed by the school, which caters to wealthy Indonesians and expatriates, as a child protection adviser and gave evidence for the defence.
He is the former head of the child exploitation unit and the sexual crimes squad in the Victorian police, with a career spanning 36 years.
“I am prepared to offer my personal and professional reputation to unequivocally declare that these seven people did not commit the offences for which they have been convicted,” he said.
He has called on the United Nations to conduct an independent investigation into the case.
‘I know Neil is innocent’
At the beginning of the year, Foreign Correspondent began filming with Mr Bantleman’s wife, Tracy.
From Jakarta she is campaigning to free him. A judicial review is her last legal avenue, but it requires evidence not heard by the court previously.
“I know Neil is innocent, he knows he is innocent,” she said.
“It needs to be known that I am standing beside my husband because he’s an innocent man.”
On the other side of Jakarta, another woman is living an almost parallel horror.
Sunarti is the wife of Agun Iskandar, one of the six Indonesian cleaners. Agun was sentenced to eight years in prison in December 2014.
The couple has a two-year-old daughter Nabila, who has only ever seen her father behind bars.
Like Ms Bantleman, Ms Iskandar has no doubt about her husband’s innocence. She alleges he was beaten into confessing.
“He had to admit sodomising a kid — he didn’t even know which kid,” she said.
“I said ‘would you dare to swear to our unborn baby, that you didn’t do what was accused of you?’ He then whispered to my tummy, ‘I swear that I never did such a thing’.”
Holding out for a judicial review
Mr Bantleman and Mr Tjiong were briefly released from jail at the end of last year when the Indonesian High Court overturned the conviction on appeal.
But in February the nation’s highest court, the Supreme Court, overruled the acquittal and increased the teachers’ jail terms from 10 to 11 years.
In the ruling the Supreme Court judges found the High Court made errors in its decision to release the men, including by dismissing the testimony of the alleged child victims.
It found although the children were not under oath, their testimony should be taken into account in conjunction with the statements made by the parents and psychologists.
Ms Bantleman hopes to have her husband out of jail by the end of the year, although most legal experts agree that is unlikely.
“Right now in my mind, I’m giving a very large timeframe for the judicial review,” she said.
“For me the next best hope for Neil is that we can bring him home at Christmas.
“That’s the target — you can’t live past that, otherwise it will bring you down.”
Dr Muhammed Nasser, a member of Kompolnas, the National Police Commission at the time of the arrests, told Foreign Correspondent the cleaners’ confessions may have been made after physical abuse.
Dr Nasser wants the case relaunched.
“We suspect that the confession made by the people who got interrogated smells abusive,” he said.
“We challenge the court decision and that is what we are doing now.”