Dear President Widodo,
I am an American author who recently visited Jakarta as a guest of the Jakarta Intercultural School. It was my first trip there and I was treated splendidly by school personnel, and just as wonderfully by the Indonesian people. I’ve visited International Schools in more than a dozen countries, and don’t remember feeling more welcome in what is, to me, a foreign culture.
So I was surprised to be made aware of the (at the time) ongoing court case involving Canadian teacher/counselor Neil Bantleman and Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdi Tjiong.
Well, the trial is over and the two have been convicted and sentenced. But now the real work begins, because they, along with the six ISS employees also accused and convicted, were all sentenced for crimes that never happened. One of those employees is dead, something you might want to look into after this original wrong is righted.
Along with being an author, I spent thirty years working in the arena of child abuse and neglect in the United States. I spent twenty five years working intimately with troubled families and, concurrently, thirty years as chairperson of our local child protection team, often listening to and ruling on extremely complex cases, with the sole purpose of finding truth and dealing with it. I have testified in dozens of abuse cases, in both juvenile and superior court.
But see, the Bantleman/Tjiong case is not complex at all. While in Jakarta I was privileged to visit the courtroom site on one of the trial dates. Since, I have followed the case closely, reading dozens of articles printed in newspapers all over the world, as well as highlights from the head judge’s conviction and sentencing statement. I won’t bore you with the details, as they can be easily discovered by anyone in your employ who has access to technology. What that techy will discover with very little effort is: no medical evidence of abuse (and in fact evidence to the contrary), child behavior totally inconsistent with prior sexual trauma, huge financial motivation on the part of the complainant, physical impossibility of the abuse taking place in the locations at the time alleged, almost idiotic alteration of the complainants’ stories as the “investigation” progressed, abandonment by the judges of scientific evidence in favor of “magical” evidence, and an attitude of retribution on the part of those same judges in response to the international outcry.
Mr. President, I have been advised more than once that it is possible I just don’t understand the difference between our cultures; that legal proceedings and local customs might be so dissimilar between your country and mine that I just don’t get it. But I reject that notion, because this isn’t about philosophy or customs or cultural actions. This is about human decency, and I’m willing to bet our definitions of that match up quite well. This is about lives being destroyed in the name of greed, and because of that it’s about whether or not a seemingly welcoming nation is, in fact, too dangerous for the families of members of the international business community. I, for one, would think long and hard before bringing my loved ones to a place where I or any one of them could be brought up on baseless charges at the whim of a corrupt legal system.
Because if it can happen to those innocent cleaners and to Neil Bantleman and Ferdi Tjiong, it can happen to anyone.
Doctor of Humane Letters
Child Mental Health Specialist
Certified Therapist, State of Washington, USA