JAKARTA - A Canadian and an Indonesian teaching assistant went on trial Tuesday accused of sexually assaulting children at a prestigious Jakarta school, but parents of students rallied outside court and proclaimed their innocence.
Neil Bantleman and Ferdinand Tjiong deny committing abuse at the Jakarta International School (JIS), which has long been favoured by expatriates and wealthy Indonesians in the capital but is now facing the worst crisis in its 60-year history.
They are the most prominent figures caught up in a wide-ranging case that has also seen cleaning staff accused of raping a young boy and the revelation that a suspected serial paedophile sought by the FBI used to teach at the school.
But Bantleman and Tjiong, who face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty, have received strong support from the school and parents, and their lawyer suggested the case could be motivated by money.
About 60 supporters, mostly parents, turned up outside court Tuesday waving banners that read "Free Neil and Ferdi" and "Reject the invented JIS case".
"They are the victims of slander, we are 1,000 per cent sure. If they were really paedophiles, we would be the first to know," said Maya Lestari, who has two children at the school and was coordinating the rally.
"We're innocent," Bantleman, a 46-year-old school administrator, told journalists from a holding cell at the court in the Indonesian capital before his trial.
As he entered court, Tjiong said: "I have come here to prove the truth, to end this slander." After the court hearings, Hotman Paris Hutapea, a lawyer for both men, said the charges against them were vague and did not even specify an exact date when the crimes allegedly took place.
"We assume this is motivated by money," he told reporters.
"If we uphold justice properly, how can you try a case when the prosecutors have no idea when the crime happened?" The family of one nursery school boy allegedly abused are suing the school and seeking $125 million in damages.
The first allegation that cleaners had raped a nursery school boy emerged in April, after which more parents made abuse claims.
The first trials began in August, with five cleaners facing charges of child sex abuse. However several of the cleaners who originally confessed have since recanted, claiming they were beaten by police. Their trials are continuing.
At the South Jakarta District Court on Tuesday, Bantleman appeared in court first to hear the charges against him at the start of his trial. Tjiong appeared in court for a separate hearing after Bantleman.
They are accused of abusing three young children at the school. Both hearings were held behind closed doors.
Under the Indonesian legal system, people accused of a crime are only formally charged in court at the start of a trial.