Friday, March 13, 2015

Open Letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Open Letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

Neil Bantleman, a Canadian citizen and educator at the prestigious Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) has been imprisoned in Indonesia on child abuse charges that are dazzlingly absurd. By the most basic standards in your country or mine, not one piece of credible evidence points to Neil or his co-defendant, Ferdi Fjiong, nor the five imprisoned cleaners, earlier tortured into confession in the wake of a sixth who was likely tortured out of his life. In fact, all evidence points to the truth that no abuse ever took place.

Much has been written about this case, in Canadian papers, the Wall Street Journal and various online sites, detailing Indonesian police and court corruption, stories of magic stones, testimony entirely antithetical to original charges, and on and on. Your governmental Google expert, or any seventh grader, can pull up the details.

And yet you remain silent.

This is an easy one, Mr. Prime Minister. When the accusers attempted to add an American educator’s name to the list of suspects, the American ambassador came down on them like a hammer, and that American’s name was removed.

This is an easy one. No one on either side of the Canadian political spectrum could possibly hear the details of the Indonesian legal process to date, and believe justice is being served, or even noticed.

This is an easy one. There’s no downside. You have the opportunity to assure all Canadians that injustice to your citizens will be dealt with straightaway, both economically and politically; that Canada doesn’t leave its people behind. Anywhere in the world.

This is an easy one, Mr. Prime Minister, but surprisingly, a great number of writers and educators on your side of the border say your administration is simply indifferent to the needs of the general population.

Don’t let that be true.

This is an easy one.

With cautious regard,

We Who Are Waiting

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Free Neil and Ferdi


I recently returned from a week of presentations at the Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS) in Jakarta, Indonesia, where I witnessed a human rights situation that is, for lack of a better term, dangerously bizarre.  Two elementary educators and six cleaners (janitors from ISS Indonesia) have been charged in a sexual abuse case that does not pass the smell test.  I’m not talking about the smell test that tells you something in the back of the refrigerator has passed its expiration date.  I’m talking about dead bodies stacked on a pile of burning tires.

In March of 2014 a parent came to school charging that her first grade child had been raped by cleaning staff in a bathroom close to his classroom.  JIS administrators removed all cleaning staff under the ruse of training, then cooperated with police, which resulted in the arrest of two identified cleaners.  There was sadness and shock among the entire JIS educational community, and great empathy was exhibited toward the child and Indonesian mother and Dutch father. 

But then Mom went to the press, where she gave graphic descriptions of the rapes and publicized the name of the child.  She said her child was raped thirteen times in March and had contracted genital herpes.  Another four cleaners were arrested, including one woman.  The Mom charged conspiracy, even though two of the cleaners didn’t work on that part of the campus and just happened to be there the day the additional four were being (randomly, it turns out) pointed out. 

The cleaners stated they were beaten and threatened by police without the presence of legal counsel.  One of them supposedly committed suicide by drinking bleach and other cleaning fluids, but a photograph of his body showed severe bruising and evidence that his lips had been stapled.  All but one of the rest of the cleaners confessed, none with any legal counsel.  The female, who did have legal counsel held her ground.  All were quickly convicted, none being allowed to recant their confessions once they reached the relative safety of the courtroom.  Four received eight year sentences, one (the woman) a seven year sentence, and of course, one is dead.

The child was examined by four separate doctors, none of which found any evidence of genital herpes.  Each doctor asked that the mother return with the boy for a second examination and in each case she did not return.  No doctor found anal tears or any evidence that would have had to accompany thirteen instances of sodomy in that short time.  With her case falling apart, the mother offered to disappear for a settlement from the school of thirteen and a half million dollars.  When the school refused, she upped her lawsuit to a hundred twenty five million and implicated three educators: Neil Bantleman, a Canadian, Ferdi Tjiong, an Indonesian and Elsa Donahue, an American citizen.  Neil and Ferdi were arrested and remain incarcerated to this day while their trial proceeds.  The American consulate threatened to bring down the full weight of American diplomacy in the wake of an American citizen being arrested on such flimsy evidence, and Elsa’s name was withdrawn.

After that, it gets crazy.

Some highlights of the stunningly, astonishingly, spectacularly, jaw-droppingly absurd events (this from a writer who knows, at a molecular level, that adverbs are not his friends) are these:

--One of the sites where the rapes supposedly occurred during the school day is a site called the aquarium, so-named because it is glass on four sides.  Four sides.  That’s all the sides there are.  Any passersby, and they would have been legion, would have witnessed the goings-on, and their silence would make them complicit. 

--Later the testimony changed to a indicate a collection of “secret rooms” which have since been walled off or filled in or projected into the universe somehow.

--More of the boy’s testimony - and he is not to be blamed for what he has been coached to say – indicated that Neil pulled a magic stone out of thin air, with which he numbed the boy below the waste so there would be no pain.  The stone disappeared as magically as it appeared.

--In the days following the original accusations, the boy continued to attend school and exhibited no evidence of trauma.  He played happily and alluded to nothing untoward and had no problem approaching the places where the alleged crimes took place.

--The police declared they administered lie detector tests to Ferdi and Neil that concluded positively that the two were lying, but never brought the results into court.

--No credible psychologists or therapists interviewed the child or engaged in play therapy with the child, or brought any evidence to court that a trauma occurred.  (Believe me, the trauma that occurred all comes from the mother’s willingness to parade her innocent child in front of the public.)

It goes on and on. 

And the cleaners languish in prison and Neil and Ferdi await their fates.  The entire JIS community is anxious beyond imagination because nothing has been done to exonerate the cleaners and the fear is that Neil and Ferdi will be found guilty to conceal the embarrassment – and corruption - behind that original injustice.

This isn’t a story about sex abuse.  This is a story about corruption. 

March 3 was the last day of testimony (the defense was allowed three fewer days to present their case than was the prosecution) and the verdict is to come in on April 2. 

I’m calling for OUTRAGE; on the part of the American educational community, on the part of the Canadian educational community in particular, and to whatever extent possible on the part of the world educational community.  This could be you.  The teachers and administrators working at American International Schools all over the world are typically adventurous, dedicated, creative souls from all parts of the globe.  They bypass - by way of exceeding - the grueling, anxiety-producing, memory level testing practices that plague American public schools, to fire the imaginations of their students.  And they direct thousands of well prepared imaginative students into some of the finest English speaking educational institutions all over the world.  I have visited international schools in Jakarta, Singapore, Moscow, Warsaw, Mumbai, New Delhi, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sau Paulo, to name most of them.  Though JIS is halfway around the world, many of the students are Americans, and many more will be applying to attend American colleges and universities.  The Canadian government is being maddeningly quiet for whatever reason, so in my view the educational community needs to raise hell.  Look, I know there are human rights violations all over the world that make this one look tepid, but this is one we can do something about.  Wake up the Twitter world at #Freeneilandferdi and let’s get viral.  For those interested in detail, a chronology prepared by a vigilant JIS parent of the entire set of bizarre proceedings is posted just below this.