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Prosecutors to decide if Canadian teacher will face child rape charges in Indonesia

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

Achmad Ibrahim/The Associated Press

After being detained for 108 days without charge on allegations of child rape at Jakarta's most prestigious international school, a Canadian educator and his local colleague have had their file handed over to Indonesian prosecutors and could face trial in a case that has captivated the country.

Canadian vice-principal Neil Bantleman and Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinant Tijong have been in custody since July, as police investigated allegations from parents of three kindergarten students at the Jakarta International School.

On Wednesday, the public prosecutor's office announced it had decided to accept the case from the police – after having sent it back it to investigators three times.

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"We will submit the case to the court," Adi Toegarisman, head of the Jakarta prosecutor's office, told reporters. The accused could be charged under one of Indonesia's two child-abuse laws, he said, and if convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.

What started as a single allegation of sexual assault against cleaners at the elite school gradually evolved into accusations of multiple assaults involving two faculty members.

"We've gone from being cautiously optimistic to extremely angry," Mr. Bantleman's wife, Tracy, said in an interview on Wednesday.

Mr. Bantleman, a 45-year-old from Burlington, Ont., and Mr. Tijong, 42, have maintained they are innocent of the accusations made against them.

The allegations that they drugged, raped and filmed sexual assaults – during school hours – have riveted Indonesia and attracted high-level diplomatic attention.

Mr. Bantleman, in an interview at the detention facility earlier this week, said the two men feel like "pawns in a bigger game," although Indonesian officials say there are no ulterior motives – and that it is a matter for the courts.

Sitting on a mat beneath a whirring fan during visiting hours at the detention facility, Mr. Bantleman said investigators have assumed he was guilty from the very beginning. "They were always asking questions as to my guilt," he told The Globe and Mail. "Did you abuse these kids? I knew it wasn't going anywhere good."

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Lawyers for Mr. Bantleman and Mr. Tijong, as well as officials from the school, say that police haven't offered any evidence against the two men. Five of the cleaners are now on trial in a separate case; one died in custody in what police say was a suicide.

Since the accusations were made, there have been protests calling for the closing of the Jakarta International School, which educates the children of diplomats, expat business leaders and top government officials.

The case began with one father asking school administrators to look into an isolated case of possible sexual assault involving his six-year-old son. But after police got involved, the mother went public and allegations escalated to include more children and alleged perpetrators. The first boy's family has launched a $125-million (U.S.) lawsuit against the school.

Principal Timothy Carr said he began to doubt the original complaint as the allegations became implausible to him. A leaked witness transcript from a child suggested Mr. Bantleman made a "magic stone" appear that allowed him to anesthetize and assault his victims. In Indonesia, belief in supernatural powers – from healing to dark arts – is widespread, even among elites.

"It seems very difficult for us to believe, and I wonder whether there is a different cultural dimension here," Mr. Carr said. "We're talking about a concrete object that appeared out of thin air. I can't believe that – potions, and various other things, and videos being taken [of the assaults.] These are all claims that have been made, but there's no evidence."

High-level Canadian officials have been in constant contact with the family, Ms. Bantleman said.

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Canadian Ambassador Donald Bobiash has met with the family several times, visited Mr. Bantleman in the detention centre and called shortly after the news on Wednesday, she added.

Foreign Minister John Baird also met with her and Mr. Carr in Jakarta in July, she said, but they were told it was unclear a supportive statement would help.

In an interview, Indonesia's incoming ambassador to Canada said the previous president summoned the police chief to present evidence against Mr. Bantleman in order to ensure there was no "politicking or behind-the-scenes deals" related to the case. Faizasyah, who goes by one name like many Indonesians, said then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono decided to let the case proceed.

Mr. Faizasyah added that the administration of new President Joko Widodo, inaugurated on Oct. 20, shares that view."This is not an immediate concern of the current government," he said. "As the case enters the court, it will give [Mr. Bantleman] equal opportunity to tell his side of the story."

But even as the families hope a trial may clear their names, there is still worry.

Mr. Tijong, who has worked at the school for 17 years, said at one point an investigator told him he should think about his wife and daughters – something he interpreted as a threat. The school has moved Mr. Tijong's wife and his two daughters as well as Ms. Bantleman – who is on leave from the school, where she is also a teacher – to new apartments.

"I do not feel safe," Mr. Tijong said in tears, as his daughter crawled into his arms.

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