Jakarta, Indonesia -
A closed-door trial began on Tuesday for the first of five janitors accused of raping a kindergarten pupil in a bathroom at a prestigious international school in Indonesia that is facing a storm of controversy following more abuse allegations.
The custodians contracted to work at the school were arrested in April - five men accused of attacking the boy and a woman accused as an accomplice. Police said one man committed suicide while in custody after drinking bathroom cleanser.
The school was shaken earlier this year in an unrelated case after news surfaced that William Vahey, an American who taught there from 1992 to 2002, killed himself as the FBI was investigating evidence that he may have sexually abused scores of teen boys during a 40-year career at 10 international schools across four continents. However, there have been no allegations that he molested any students in Indonesia.
On Tuesday, a media horde surrounded former janitor Agun Iskandar, 25, as he entered the courtroom. The remaining four suspects, all outsourced from a local company, were expected to appear in court on Wednesday, and the men could face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty. The six-year-old boy's parents have sued the school, seeking $125 million in compensation.
All of the male defendants signed confessions, but one defence attorney, Mada Mardanus, argued they did so only because they were being tortured by police. He said the suspects deny the accusations.
Jakarta police spokesman Colonel Rikwanto, who uses one name, strongly denied that any of the suspects were tortured during police questioning.
Mardanus also said the evidence was weak, with medical reports finding the boy had no major injuries or abnormalities even though the prosecutor's indictment alleged he had been sodomised up to 13 times.
“We don't want the court to punish the innocent simply because of public opinion, or just to please the public,” Mardanus said. “We hope the judge can see this case fairly, proportionately and humanely.”
The family's lawyer, Andi M. Asrun, questioned the defence attorney's claim. “How could they know the results of the medical reports, which are concealed and only for investigation purposes?” he said.
Since the custodians' case surfaced, two other families of young male students have come forward, and two school staff members have been detained without charges.
A campaign on social media has called for the release of Canadian school administrator Neil Bantleman and Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinant Tjiong, who were arrested in July and are not part of this trial. Both have denied the allegations.
“We have zero doubt in the allegations against those teachers - that the allegations are false and they are innocent - and we are confident in the justice system that with time, they will be let free,” said Steve Druggan, deputy head of school for learning.
The school 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 different countries. - Sapa-AP
* Associated Press writers Ali Kotarumalos and Margie Mason contributed to this report.