US, Canada condemn Indonesian court for convicting 2 of sexually abusing students

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Indonesia's Supreme Court has overruled the acquittals of two teachers, a Canadian and an Indonesian, on charges they sexually abused three children at a prestigious international school, and ordered longer prison terms for them, a court official said Thursday.

Canada and the United States both expressed shock and dismay over the verdict.

Neil Bantleman and Ferdinant Tjiong had been sentenced to 10 years in prison last April by the South Jakarta District Court. They appealed to the High Court, which acquitted them in August, ruling there was insufficient evidence to support their conviction.

Supreme Court spokesman Suhadi said a three-member panel of judges handed down a verdict Wednesday based on the prosecutors' appeal.

"The judge panel concluded that the defendants were proven to have violated the 2007 Child Protection Law," said Suhardi, who uses a single name. "It did not only reinstate the District Court's verdict but also lengthened the sentence to 11 years."

The two teachers at the Jakarta International School, now called the Jakarta Intercultural School, also were ordered to pay a fine of $7,440 each or serve six more months in jail, Suhadi said.

Chandra Saptaji, head of the general crime section at the South Jakarta Prosecutors' Office, said Tjiong was taken from his house Thursday and is now serving his sentence at Cipinang Prison in eastern Jakarta.

"We are still looking for Bantleman, who is actually under a ban to leave the country," Saptaji said. "Hopefully, he is cooperative and complying with Indonesian law."

The Canadian government said it was "deeply dismayed and shocked" by the court's ruling.

"This decision is unjust, given the many grave irregularities throughout the various proceedings in this case and the fact that all evidence presented by the defense has systematically been rejected," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said in a statement.

"Mr. Bantleman and Mr. Tjiong were not provided the opportunity to demonstrate their innocence. Despite Canada's repeated calls for due process, this case was not handled in a fair and transparent manner," Dion said.

U.S. Ambassador Robert O. Blake also expressed shock and disappointment over the verdict, saying it would impact international views about the rule of law in Indonesia.

Bantleman and Tjiong were arrested in July 2014 following allegations from the parents of a 6-year-old student that he had been sodomized.

Four male janitors at the school were already sentenced to eight years in prison in that case and a woman received a seven-year sentence as an accomplice. Police said a sixth suspect killed himself in custody by drinking bathroom cleaner.

Under Indonesian law, both Bantleman and Tjiong still could challenge the sentence by filing for a judicial review by the Supreme Court if they have new evidence.

The South Jakarta District Court threw out a civil lawsuit in which a child's parents sought $125 million from the school for alleged negligence.

The school in southern Jakarta is attended by children of foreign diplomats, expatriates and Indonesia's elite. It has 2,400 students aged 3 to 18 from about 60 countries.