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Indonesian human rights advocate: Neil Bantleman should be freed

12/19/2014 03:01 EST | Updated 02/18/2015 05:59 EST
A human rights advocate in Indonesia says the courts should free Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman and Indonesian teacher's aide Ferdinand Tijong. 

Bantleman, 45, and Tijong are facing child sexual abuse charges in an investigation involving an international school in Jakarta. 

Bantleman has called the allegations “baseless” and “completely false.” He and his supporters say the lack of a firm time frame surrounding the alleged incidents undermines the case against him.

Journalist Andreas Harsono covers Indonesia for Human Rights Watch. He said he hopes to address the Bantleman case with a formal Human Rights Watch brief early next year.

He said the story took off in Indonesia in part because the Jakarta International School is known as an elite, expensive school.

Harsono is the only Human Rights Watch investigator in Indonesia, and he has been busy. He's involved with campaigns to protest the recent killings of five students involved in a peaceful protest in Papua. He's also following the effort to get more than 600 closed places of worship in Indonesia re-opened before Christmas, he said, the 10-year anniversary of the tsunami in Indonesia, and a few other cases.

In the meantime, he shared his personal observations with CBC Hamilton. We asked how Harsono perceives the Indonesian response to the Bantleman case. 

"I think this is going to be a long legal battle," he said. "It might be going on and on and on, two years, three years, if they are not acquitted by the district court. So this is going to be an energy-consuming legal battle."

He said the Indonesian audience paid close attention to the initial allegations of sexual assault reported in the first few days of the case earlier this year. But the media in the country have not been closely following the more recent court developments, like how Bantleman's attorneys plan to defend him at trial, as closely, he said. 

"The key here is Indonesian journalists getting interested in the case," he said. 

In this portion of our interview with Harsano, we asked him about that lack of local media interest and what impact that may have on the case. 

Several cleaners implicated in a related case have signed written statements in the questioning "more or less saying that they are guilty", Harsono said. One of the cleaners died in detention. Police said it was suicide, but the cleaners have suggested he was tortured, Harsono said. 

Harsono said so far he has not seen "strong evidence" raised that the alleged violence happened.

"I think they all should be acquitted," Harsono said. 

He said it would take the judge being "brave" to make such a decision in the wake of the wave of Indonesian media coverage that focused heavily on the allegations in the first few days of the case.

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