Many of you may have heard this story; it comes from just below the equator on the other side of the world, but it’s a tale so astonishing it’s made its way to the rest of the world. It concerns, among other things, two innocent educators, Canadian citizen Neil Bantleman and Indonesian citizen Ferdinant Tjiong, who teach at the Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) in Indonesia, six innocent cleaners, one now deceased, and a cast of English speaking educators from all over the world.
In March of 2014, the mother of a kindergarten child attending (JIS) disclosed that her son had been molested by the janitorial staff (cleaners) hired to maintain the school’s buildings and grounds. This alleged molestation, according to the mother included repeated anal rape – full penetration – over a relatively long period.
Officials at the school were appropriately alarmed and set about full cooperation with the police investigation, allowing questioning of the child by the police and others not necessarily trained in forensic inquiry. In retrospect, the first indication that something was awry occurred during this initial investigation. When shown pictures of the cleaners working the area the previous day, the child played “Eenie, meanie, miney, mo,” and went off to play, exhibiting no signs of trauma. When retrieved from his play and asked to “take it seriously,” he repeated the behavior and again, off he went.
Sometime before the 27th of March, 31 photos were left at the mother’s home. Even then, the child was unable to identify the perpetrators consistently. On the 28th, probably with help, he identified Agun Iskander, Awan Amin, and Afrischa Setyani. It was almost a month later that Syahril, Zainal Abidin and Azwar’s names were added. (It should be noted that many Indonesian men identify themselves with a single name.) All of the accused were responsible for financially supporting themselves as well as members of their families. What the mother didn’t know was that two of the identified cleaners were substitutes on the day of identification and regularly worked a completely different part of the campus, and therefore were not present through the time the mother declared the offenses had taken place.
The damning piece of evidence the mother cited was that her son had contracted a herpes virus very common among Indonesian males and present in more than one of the accused. In fact, her son had not contracted the virus, which she would have known, had she kept a follow-up doctor’s appointment. Instead she essentially used medical information she did not understand to inaccurately cite findings to support her claim of sodomy against her child. So, no herpes, no sodomy. It would have been biologically impossible for the child to have not contracted the herpes virus, given her description of the abuse. There was also no evidence of damage to the boy’s anus, which again would have been impossible given the mother’s graphic descriptions.
At this point, in any credible investigation all bets should have been off. The cleaners had not been falsely accused of a crime, they had been accused of a crime that never happened.
Yet the evidence was ignored, the cleaners were taken into custody, and lo and behold, several confessed. Under normal, civil circumstances that might have cast a pall over the above declaration that no crime was committed. However witnesses said the confessions were extracted through torture. Azwar, who did not confess, died in custody on the day of his interrogation. Police claim he committed suicide by drinking cleaning fluid that he found in a bathroom in the investigator’s’ office, but witnesses declared his face and body were battered. It is likely the others confessed to stay alive. Afrischa, the only female, did not confess, but she was the only one with legal counsel and was therefore the only one not tortured. The surviving cleaners tried to recant their confessions when they got to what they thought was the relative safety of the court, but the recantations were rejected and they were each sentenced to eight years in prison, while Afrischa received seven.
Meanwhile, the mother brought a twelve-and-a-half million dollar lawsuit against JIS and the Ministry of Education in Indonesia before discovering that the cleaners were not employed by the school, but by the Danish international janitorial company, ISS. Did she turn the lawsuit on ISS? No she did not. Suddenly two more mothers, both acquaintances of the first, “discovered” their children were also molested, not only by the cleaners but apparently by JIS administrator Neil Bantleman and teaching assistant Ferdi Tjiong. They also attempted to name a principal but that principal was an American citizen and by now the American Embassy recognized that none of this passed the smell test, and let it be known that the full weight of American political and economic influence would come down like a hammer. That principal’s name conveniently disappeared from the list of possible suspects. For some reason, armed with all that same information, the Canadian embassy made no stand.
Now the first mother, seemingly emboldened by their ability to bring JIS educators into the fray without being laughed off the equator, increased her lawsuit by a factor of ten, from 12,500,000 (USD) to 125,000,000 (USD). Neil and Ferdi were brought in “for questioning”, told they would be interrogated and released. Both felt no trepidation in cooperating because they knew how absurd the charges were.
The trial itself would leave a kangaroo stupefied. All credible medical testimony produced by the defense was disregarded, in favor of testimony from the prosecution that included children being “delivered” during the regular school day to the molesters who had their way with them in what would have had to be full view of the rest of the school, then returned to their classrooms, exhibiting no negative effects from their ordeal: anal rape. The testimony of classroom teachers who claimed no incidences of the children being removed from their classrooms, went the way of all credible medical testimony. Also admitted into evidence was children’s testimony, supported by both mothers’ and the presiding judges’ suggestive questions, of a magic stone produced from thin air by Mr. Bantleman, used to anesthetize the child from the waist down, so he would not object to the horrors he was about to experience. That magic stone disappeared in the same way it was produced.
After that it gets crazy.
In any informed, civilized proceeding this case wouldn’t be laughed out of court because it would never have reached court. The mothers would be investigated for their willingness to put their children through the emotional trauma of a plethora of invasive medical exams that proved nothing as well as having to lie in public as well as the exposure of their names and faces in the media.
If you are reading this and fancy yourself an investigative journalist looking for an “easy one,” you are standing over a gold mine of flawed investigation and indecent treatment, over a crime that was never committed.
Clear and incontrovertible evidence exists of all that is recounted here, and much more, including entirely unnecessary and humiliating medical procedures (repeated videotaped and photographed rectal examinations of the accused at a police facility without their consent), which would bear no weight on the issue at hand), interviews with “sexologists” which included idiotic questions such as, “How many times a week do your wife and you have sex?” and “Did your parents ever fight?”; lie detector tests and lineups that included as subjects, police investigators familiar to the alleged child victims; some without full legal or embassy representation.
On a scale of human rights violations on planet earth – given genocides and boy soldiers and human trafficking – the ISS cleaners/Bantleman/Tjiong case rates maybe a five. This writer had only a hurried sighting through a closing door, of Neil and Ferdi caged in the courtroom during a break in proceedings of their closed trial. But imagine sitting in that cage, listening to the preposterous charges, knowing you will likely be branded with the label, “Lowest of the Low” when all you ever wanted to do was teach; when you had dedicated your life to enlightenment.
They say perception is reality. A person knowledgeable about international human rights, who actually lives in Jakarta, has said that the major international human rights organizations, Amnesty International et al, wouldn’t touch this case because of the perception of a wealthy private school going up against abused children and the fact that Neil and Ferdi had not technically been tortured (though if you research the Convention on Torture, medical exams without consent and the humiliation of being videotaped and photographed may fill the bill). But here, perception is exactly opposite reality. Those cleaners are not well-to-do. They are part of the poor Indonesian working class, struggling to feed, shelter, and help make life better for their extended families. Those families are paralyzed and impoverished because of this travesty. Neil and Ferdi are not members of the wealthy who pay $25,000 and up for their children to attend JIS, a not for profit institution. They are teachers. The people who brought these outlandish charges are the ones who could afford that tuition. So here’s your reality: Awan, Zainal, Agun, Syahrial, serving 8 years in prison for a crime that was never committed. Afrischa, serving 7 years in prison for a crime that was never committed. Neil and Ferdi, rightfully acquitted by the High Court in August 2015 and freed for 6 months have now been rearrested as the Supreme Court overturned their acquittal in a shocking 2 days. They are now serving 11 years in prison for a crime that was certainly never committed. And Azwar, serving no time because his time ran out.
Their last hope is a judicial review and their lawyers will be filing this in the coming weeks. We pray the truth will be heard.
Once we know something, we can’t unknow it. If you’ve read this, you know it. If you choose not to believe it, nothing said here can’t be Googled in five minutes.
Understand this: If you have any capacity to influence this situation, your time is now. Listen to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men (women) to do nothing.”