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Canadian held without charge in Jakarta child rape investigation

A security guard stands at the entrance of Jakarta International School in this photo taken in May.

Achmad Ibrahim/The Associated Press

A Canadian man has been caught up in a highly fraught case involving allegations of child rape at a prestigious international school here.

Neil Bantleman, 45, an administrator at the Jakarta International School, and an Indonesian colleague have been held in a Jakarta prison without charge for nearly two weeks in connection with the widening investigation into accusations by Indonesian parents that their sons were sexually abused at Jakarta International School.

Mr. Bantleman, originally from Burlington, Ont., has denied any involvement in or knowledge of abuse at the school, as have his colleagues and school officials. But the case, which now involves three families who say their sons were raped, has created a near-toxic atmosphere and growing controversy in Indonesia. Protesters gather almost daily to call for the school's closing, while others fear the intense emotions aroused by the charges may influence the investigation.

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"Very visceral fears are ignited with alleged child sex abuse," Tim Carr, the head of the school, said. "That sort of reaction can influence how decisions are made and how a community reacts."

Mr. Carr said the school is determined to discover if abuse occurred at the school, but that police have provided no evidence. He called any suggestion of staff involvement "ludicrous."

The school scandal broke open in March, with allegations that a five-year-old boy was raped at the school by a janitor. Five contract cleaning staff workers were arrested. One died in custody in an apparent suicide after drinking bleach. Police have said the others have confessed, but they have not provided any details and have not charged the men. In the months that followed that bombshell – the school has 2,700 students who pay tuition of up to $30,000 (U.S.) a year, and is considered a launchpad to the best universities – two other families came forward to say their sons had also been assaulted.

The first suggestion that school staff members were being accused came earlier this month, with news of the detention of Mr. Bantleman and an Indonesian teaching assistant. Police can detain suspects without charge during an investigation. "They are baseless allegations that right from the beginning had no merit and no substance, and I can't believe it has gotten to this point," Mr. Bantelman told The Wall Street Journal last week.

The parents of the first boy to allege abuse, meanwhile, have sued the school for $125-million (U.S.). The staff members named as suspect in turn filed a defamation lawsuit.

Hotman Paris Hutapea, the high-profile lawyer who is representing the two staff members, called on the Canadian government to get more involved. He said the embassies of the United States, Britain and Australia – which founded the school in 1951 – released a joint declaration expressing concern that the detentions may violate the presumption of innocence assured under Indonesian law.

"Canadian citizens need to wake up their ambassador and their prime minister," said Mr. Hutapea.

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But Claude Rochon, a spokesman for Canada's Department of International Affairs, said Canadian consular officials are providing assistance to Mr. Bantleman as it is required. They are also engaged with local authorities to gather additional information, said Mr. Rochon.

Mr. Bantleman's wife, Tracy, is able to visit her husband in the prison and called it "absolutely false" that he had anything to do with the alleged abuse. She said she is increasingly worried about his safety.

But she said she holds out hope that the recent election of the reformist governor of Jakarta, Joko Widodo, as president may help guarantee fair treatment. Mr. Widodo campaigned on shaking up the police and the judiciary to boost the country's rule of law.

"I have to trust in democracy and the rule of law," Ms. Bantleman said. "I have to trust the new president will intervene."

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