UPDATE- Dec. 8, 2014
Teacher Neil Bantleman and teacher’s aide Ferdinand Tjiong from JIS have now been in custody for almost five months and have been charged with multiple counts of rape against three former students. The two face charges under Indonesian child protection law that could carry sentences of up to 15 years in jail, according to the Wall Street Journal.
As he waited in a holding cell for his court appearance, Mr. Bantleman told reporters, “I just want the truth to be told. It’s time for justice.”
Trial proceedings for Bantleman began last Tuesday, but are closed to the public. The trials for the accused janitors that began in August are ongoing.
The Jakarta Post story includes perspective from an Indonesian legal expert and an Australian former detective. Both suggest the testimonies of the children are not sufficient to prove a crime occurred.
More than 100 parents and school staff came to the courthouse to show their support for the two men, many of them wearing T-shirts reading “#free Neil and Ferdi.”
The school — formerly known as Jakarta International School but forced to change its name to”Jakarta Intercultural School” by a new Indonesian government regulation banning the word “International” in school names – stands firmly in support of the accused.
Nov. 12, 2014
Two staff members from Jakarta International School, teacher Neil Bantleman and teacher’s aide Ferdinand Tjiong, have been imprisoned in an Indonesian jail for over 100 days after a student’s parents claimed the teachers sexually abused their child on the campus. No evidence has been found and the teachers have not yet been accused of any crimes. But just last week, the two were moved to a maximum security prison where they could spend as many as four months awaiting trial. Both deny all claims against them.
Jakarta International School is a member of Interscholastic Association of Southeast Asian Schools (IASAS), and therefore has close ties with SAS. Administration and faculty at SAS have provided support to the JIS community throughout this ordeal. Robert Landau, Deputy Superintendent, has been one of the strongest liaisons between the schools, sharing information and support.
Landau has said that he “is fully supportive of JIS during this troubling time period.”
It all started in March 2014 when statements were made to police by the mother of a 6-year-old JIS student, asserting that the boy was sexually abused by staff members in “secret rooms” at JIS.
The mother said she noticed something was wrong when the child became aggressive, began wetting himself at school and started having nightmares in which he screamed, “Please don’t hurt me, please let me go,” The Independent, a newspaper in Australia, reported.
After allegedly finding bruises on his stomach and elsewhere, his mother sent him for a medical examination. This was said to reveal an infection and possibly a sexually transmitted disease.
Initially, JIS was supportive of the family and agreed to keep the case private for the child’s protection, but were surprised when the mother went public with the details of the events after being advised by the school to keep the case out of the media. Fairfax Media of Australia reported she was “disappointed with the slowness of the school’s response.”
Trailing these claims, police detained six janitors: five men and one women. According to the police, one of them died in an apparent suicide while in custody in April. Since then, all previous confessions have been recanted, as the four men left in custody said they were obtained through torture. Their trials began in August. Their lawyers have argued that the evidence, such as the medical examinations, is not enough to prove rape.
Weeks after the first accusations were made, a second mother came forward, claiming that her son had been attacked by teaching personnel. On April 3, 2014, the JIS community was distressed when news spread that additional crimes of a sexual nature had allegedly been committed in the school.
Since April, a third family has emerged with similar allegations.
The family of the first victim sued JIS for approximately US $125 million dollars, claiming that their son will need care for life. An official statement released by the school states that “this [lawsuit] calls into question the legitimacy of the claim.” All of this transpired in April, when further scandal surrounded JIS because details emerged that the American pedophile William Vahey had worked at the school for 10 years.
By late May, all three families came together to say that both the cleaning staff and the teachers were involved.
Police reports leaked to the Wall Street Journal show that the revealed claims by the alleged first victim describe secret rooms in the school and a “magic stone” used to anesthetize the children. The documents identified eight other boys who were allegedly abused this year at the school.
JIS Head of School, Timothy Carr, has stated that the school is cooperating with the police but is fully supportive of the detained teachers. As he told the Wall Street Journal, he believes that the claims are “not physically possible.” In a statement released by JIS, the school reiterated their support. “Both men are innocent of the alleged crimes. Their families want them home so that there is support for both men as they go through this very difficult time.”
The families of the teaching staff involved are suing the parents for defamation. According to The Independent, Bantleman’s wife, Tracy, a teacher at the school, said the whole process has been “disheartening,” that “there is no evidence,” and that their families are “ashamed and surprised by the Indonesian legal system.”
JIS is now holding weekly vigils for Bantleman and Tjiong, attended by staff, parents and students. In addition, a petition to release them has gained more than 10,000 signatures. On Oct. 10, The Jakarta Post reported that 20 members of the JIS community visited the teachers at the detention center. Teachers, students and parents came bearing white roses and handmade cards that read “We love you Neil and Ferdi.” They also wore t-shirts with #freeneilandferdi on the front, stating their support.
Everyone in the JIS community has been impacted by this incident. Cecila Bae, a current senior at JIS, said, “The detainment has been frustrating and heartbreaking for so many. This tragedy has actually brought our community closer together in some ways: while many of us do not know Neil or Ferdi, most members of our community have been actively fighting for their release with events in school and through social networking sites (spreading the petition online, tweeting #FreeNeilandFerdi, and so forth).”
Any SAS athletes who were unaware of the situation at JIS prior to the IASAS Tournament on Oct. 16-18 quickly realized the impact it was having on the community when they witnessed a minute of silence for the imprisoned teachers. During events like Exchange, Bae observed, “the other IASAS schools’ soccer players took a knee at the 65th minute of the game (to represent the 65 days that Neil and Ferdi had been jailed) with the JIS soccer players.”
Regardless of the outcome, this event highlights the importance of security and safety for all students. SAS high school principal Dr. Darin Fahrney said, “We are constantly in discussion about security measures for students-before and after this tragedy. We always have talks with our teachers making sure they understand their professional responsibility to be ever vigilant about situations that may arise when students are in danger. We expect teachers to be, in essence, mandatory reporters. If there is any indication that a student is in trouble, they are mandated to tell someone.”
The Singapore American School community has shown their support for the JIS community, with Landau communicating with JIS throughout this ordeal. To keep them in the forefront of our thoughts, he has organized weekly candlelight vigils to which he has invited the SAS faculty.
“After the announcement goes out to the entire staff, people voluntarily come in support. People who know about the situation will often speak spontaneously; other times, songs have been sung and poems read. There is always a moment of silence. We finish with the JIS cheer of ‘naga naga naga’,” Landau said.
In addition, the SAS counselors have visited JIS this year to help support their grieving community. Dr. Jeff Devens was part of this team and said they “met with the faculty and ran crisis intervention, educating and helping the faculty work through the trauma. During this time, the government was closely analyzing JIS and its faculty members, lending to a very anxious environment.” He remembered that the counselors were working in the offices of the accused teachers.
The efforts of SAS to support the JIS community demonstrates the power of the international and expatriate community.
“It has certainly helped them [JIS] understand that other schools know what is going on and that others care about the situation. They know that what JIS is dealing with is of concern to us here at SAS; internationally, in a sense, we are all part of a unique family. When one member of the body hurts, we share in their heartache,” Devens said.