Indonesian Court Rejects Sex Abuse Suit Against International School

JAKARTA, Indonesia — An Indonesian court on Monday dismissed a $125 million lawsuit filed against one of the country’s most prestigious international schools by the parents of a former student who claimed their child was repeatedly sexually assaulted by educators and school janitors.

The case, which surfaced in 2014, sent shock waves through the expatriate community in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, and spotlighted concerns about the competence and impartiality of Indonesia’s much-maligned judicial system, in particular in dealing with foreign nationals working here.

The court dismissed the lawsuit on a technicality, saying that the plaintiffs should have filed it against all parties accused of assaulting the child, who was a 6-year-old kindergarten student at the time of the alleged attacks in 2014, instead of just the school.

However, the head of a three-judge panel at the South Jakarta District Court, Judge Haswandi, who uses only one name, also said that the plaintiffs “didn’t give any clear detailed information about when and how” the alleged sexual assaults occurred.


Ferdinand Tjiong, an Indonesian teaching assistant, center, and Neil Bantleman, a Canadian administrator, right, have been sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexual assault.

Adek Berry/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Harry Ponto, the lead attorney for the Jakarta Intercultural School, who has said that the entire case was a fabrication, hailed the ruling as proof that no child was assaulted.

He also said that the ruling Monday should help the continuing appeals by Neil Bantleman, a Canadian administrator at the school, and Ferdinand Tjiong, an Indonesian teaching assistant, who in April were sentenced to 10 years in prison by a separate three-judge panel at the same district court after being convicted of sexually assaulting three kindergarten boys.

Mr. Ponto said that while, in his view, there was no credible physical or witness evidence for a lawsuit, the judges, given the initial widespread anger from the Indonesian public and the national government in the wake of the alleged attacks, did not want to appear to be siding with an expensive private school attended mostly by foreign students.

“They were afraid of being too direct in throwing out the case due to public opinion. So they were playing it safe” by dismissing it on a technicality, Mr. Ponto said.

The plaintiffs in the case no longer live in Indonesia and could not be immediately reached for comment. The court gave their legal team 14 days to decide whether to file an appeal.

“We believe that the sexual assaults really happened, based on the evidence and expert witnesses, but we basically respect what the judges said today,” said Cinta Trisulo, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “We are going to discuss with our legal team about what to do next.”

Among the key pieces of evidence from both sides were conflicting medical reports about whether two boys who were examined had ever been sexually assaulted.

Mr. Bantleman and Mr. Tjiong were arrested in July 2014 after the parents of three children filed police complaints against them and a third educator at the school, who was never charged.

The family of the first child to come forward initially filed a $12.5 million lawsuit against the school, accusing it of negligence after the school’s janitors, who worked for an outside cleaning company, were said to have assaulted the boy in a student bathroom. The parents then increased the lawsuit to $125 million after suddenly accusing school staff members of also sexually assaulting their child.

The educators and school officials vehemently asserted their innocence and earlier this year won a defamation lawsuit in a court in Singapore against the mother of a second kindergarten boy who had also accused school staff members of sexual assault in emails and text messages sent to other parents.

“I’m ecstatic,” Tracy Bantleman, Mr. Bantleman’s wife, who is a physical education teacher at the school, said of the ruling on Monday. “Today’s news is extremely encouraging for Neil and I, and it’s one more step forward toward justice for all.”

The case erupted in April 2014, when the Indonesian police arrested a janitor on charges of child sexual assault at the school’s main campus, which includes a high school, middle school and elementary school with about 2,200 students in all. Students from more than 60 countries, including the children of Western diplomats and wealthy Indonesians, attend the school, which is popularly known as J.I.S. and was previously named the Jakarta International School.

The janitor and five other cleaners who were arrested later were accused of having gang-raped the kindergarten student sometime in March 2014, in the student bathroom, which was less than 30 feet from the boy’s classroom.

Five janitors were found guilty of child sexual assault last December and were sentenced to prison terms ranging up to eight years; the sixth committed suicide shortly after his arrest, the police said. The five janitors maintain their innocence and are appealing their convictions, saying that the police tortured them until they confessed.

Two months after the allegations against the janitors became public, the families of the first boy who came forward and two other boys in the kindergarten program filed complaints with the police claiming that members of the school’s educational staff had sexually assaulted their children.

They said that Mr. Bantleman and Mr. Tjiong, as well as the elementary school’s American principal, Elsa Donohue, had drugged and raped the children and other students in the school’s administrative offices, and that the perpetrators had videotaped the assaults. Ms. Donohue has not been detained or charged with any offense, and no videotapes of the alleged assaults were ever found.

The mother of one of the two other boys claimed that Mr. Bantleman and Mr. Tjiong had also joined the school janitors, who had already been accused, in sexually assaulting her son in the same bathroom.

The Indonesian police failed to question any school employees posted near the bathrooms or in the administrative offices, which school officials contend are full of staff members and students throughout the day, to see whether any attack ever occurred.

One of the children who said he was assaulted told the police that Mr. Bantleman had conjured a “magic stone” out of thin air to anesthetize the boys and later heal them of their injuries, according to defense lawyers.

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