Five Key Legal Issues in the Jakarta School Sex Abuse Case



Neil Bantleman (L), a teacher at Jakarta International School, comforts his wife Tracy after attending his trial in Jakarta on Dec. 16. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images


JAKARTA — Verdicts are expected Thursday in the sex abuse trials of two educators at the Jakarta Intercultural School, a case that has brought intense scrutiny of Indonesia’s judicial system. The trials, which began in December, were closed to the public and the court ordered participants not to speak publicly about proceedings. Defense lawyers say that Canadian administrator Neil Bantleman and Ferdinand Tjiong, an Indonesian teacher’s aide, have been denied due process and that some aspects of the process have not met international standards. Here are five key legal issues:

The Children – The central evidence against the defendants is the testimony of three boys who say they were sexually abused. The boys, about 5 when the alleged abuse occurred, were questioned repeatedly by parents, psychologists and police and were given multiple, sometimes painful, medical exams, defense attorneys say. International experts say such treatment is inappropriate in children’s cases because it can be traumatic in itself. They also say that leading and suggestive questions can result in inaccurate accounts of abuse. University of Toledo Associate Professor Kamala London, who testified for the defense, says the first response children make is usually the most accurate and that if questioned repeatedly, they can develop false accounts based on questions they are asked. When initially questioned, the boys said no abuse occurred, the defense says, but over time, their accounts changed and they made numerous allegations. The defense says the questioning prompted the children to come up with untrue and fantastic accounts of abuse. Video recording of interviews with possible child victims is standard in many countries but not in Indonesia and no videos of the children’s questioning were presented in court.

Polygraph Tests – Messrs. Bantleman and Tjiong were given lie detector tests and the results have been introduced as evidence. The prosecution, in concluding arguments submitted to the court and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, contends that the tests show that both defendants were deceptive when questioned about the alleged abuse. The defense argues the test results were erroneous because the baseline questions were not constructed properly. The prosecution counters that the polygraph examiner is an expert who has successfully questioned terror suspects, among others, “so he won’t be deceived in a case where the perpetrator is just a teacher.” Courts in many countries do not accept polygraph results because the test has not been proven reliable. In Indonesia, polygraph results can be considered as evidence by the three-judge panel.

Police Lineups – The children initially picked out the suspects from school photos presented by parents. Later, the children also picked out Messrs. Bantleman and Tjiong from police lineups. The defense contends the identification process was flawed and that both lineups fell far short of international standards. A photo of Mr. Bantleman’s lineup, which was seen by The Journal, shows him standing in a parking lot alongside two Indonesian men and facing a window. Mr. Bantleman, who is Caucasian and well over 6 feet tall, towers over the other two. The defense says the two Indonesians were police investigators working on the case and that the children knew them. All three are wearing orange jail shirts but the Indonesians are wearing theirs over street clothes. Defense lawyers were not present. The defense says a lineup should include up to eight people not known to the alleged victims and who are similar to the suspect in height and physical description.  Police have said they acted appropriately in their investigation.

Eyewitnesses –The prosecution presented no eyewitnesses to the alleged abuse except the children themselves, which is not unusual in child sex abuse cases. Timothy Carr, head of the Jakarta Intercultural School, says that despite the school’s request, the police did not interview dozens of staff members who worked in the area where the alleged abuse occurred and could have testified whether they had seen the suspects and children together. The defense says investigators did not seek exculpatory evidence that might have proven the men’s innocence. Police say they conducted a thorough investigation.

Time Limits – The defense says Chief Judge Nur Aslam Bustaman set arbitrary time limits that kept them from presenting all their evidence. Defense attorneys say they were unable to call all their witnesses and that other defense witnesses were forced to cut their testimony short. Judge Bustaman also imposed a one-hour time limit on cross-examination, which the defense team says prevented them from asking all their questions. The defense says the time limits were imposed after prosecution witnesses, including the mothers of the alleged victims, were allowed to testify at length. The defense also contends that Judge Bustaman’s gag order exceeded her authority. Prosecutors have cited the court order in declining to discuss the proceedings. The judges have declined to speak to The Journal and other media outlets.