JAKARTA, Indonesia – A Canadian teacher and a teaching assistant went on trial Tuesday in Indonesia accused of sexually abusing a kindergarten student at an international school.
Neil Bantleman, or Burlington, Ont., and Ferdinant Tjiong maintain their innocence as do fellow teachers and the principal at the Jakarta International School.
Around 60 teachers and parents of pupils at the school protested outside the South Jakarta District Court in support of the pair.
“Free the innocents. We are here for you Neil and Ferdi. We believe in you,” they shouted.
The men, who have been in custody since July, are being tried separately in closed-door sessions.
A judge read the charges out against them in Tuesday’s session. They were not required to enter a plea.
Five janitors at the school are being tried over the same allegations. A sixth died in custody.
Guy Bantleman says while his brother had hoped the charges would be dropped by now, the prospect of being able to challenge the “wild allegations” is giving his brother grounds for optimism.
He also says Bantleman’s legal team will move to have the case thrown out.
Bantleman says it’s expected to take up to three weeks for a decision on whether his brother will head to trial, a process he says would take another three to six months.
He said while the family is concerned about whether the court process will be fair and transparent, it will at least give his brother a chance to fight back.
“While we never thought we’d get to trial, it’s getting to a point where we can confront the accusers in a court of law, we can see their alleged evidence, we can start to understand more about the allegations and ultimately refuting them and clearing Neil’s name,” Guy Bantleman said Monday in an interview.
“Having the ability to know that there is something coming up on the horizon, something short term, that will drive Neil… he needs something to cling on to and have hope about.”
Bantleman’s legal team will also try to have him transferred out of prison and into home arrest, said his brother, adding that he has been harassed by fellow inmates and is concerned for his safety.
Guy Bantleman said while consular officials are providing assistance, the family last week received a letter from the office of Lynne Yelich, junior minister responsible for consular affairs, stating Ottawa won’t pressure Indonesia to release his brother from jail.
Supporters of Bantleman and Tjiong say the victim, who was six at the time the alleged abuse occurred, was subject to suggestive questioning by inexperienced police. The abuse was alleged to have happened at a room in the school during teaching hours.
The family of the victim is suing the school for $130 million.
The school in southern Jakarta is attended by the children of foreign diplomats, businesspeople and Indonesia’s elite. It has 2,400 students aged 3 to 18 from about 60 countries.
Bantleman moved to Indonesia four years ago with his wife, who also teaches at the school.
Both Bantleman and Tjiong could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
– With files from The Associated Press