Indonesia school sex abuse trial begins

Jakarta - A cleaner went on trial on Tuesday accused of sexual assault at one of Indonesia's most prestigious international schools, the first case to go to court in a high-profile scandal.

The crisis at the Jakarta International School (JIS), which began in April with allegations that cleaning staff had assaulted a young boy, has rocked an institution that has been a favourite with expatriates in the capital for more than 60 years.

Since the first allegation, the scandal has snowballed, with more parents making abuse claims, a Canadian staff member accused and the revelation that a suspected serial paedophile sought by the FBI had taught at the school for a decade.

Agun Iskandar, aged 25, was the first of five cleaners from an outside contractor who have been accused of abusing the boy to face court.

A prosecutor said Iskandar could face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty, while a lawyer for the alleged victim called for the cleaners to be punished harshly.

"The victim and family want the most severe, maximum punishment because it was a barbaric, insolent act", Andi Asrun told reporters before the trial started at the South Jakarta District Court.

However Mada Rajendra Mardanus, a lawyer for Iskandar, insisted his client was innocent. The cleaners' legal team have previously said police beat confessions out of some of them.

"There is no strong evidence to support their case. This case has been forced", Mardanus told AFP ahead of the trial.

"Agun is disappointed because his freedom has been snatched away from him."

Four of the cleaners have confessed but their lawyers have said they now plan to recant. The fifth, a woman, never confessed. Police insist they did not beat the cleaners.

The start of the trial was closed but prosecutor Rahima, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told reporters afterwards that Iskandar had been charged under child protection laws and faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The other cleaners accused of assaulting the youngster are set to be indicted at the start of their trials on Wednesday.

A sixth cleaner was implicated in the case but died in custody, with police saying he committed suicide by drinking floor-cleaning fluid.

As well as the cleaning staff, abuse claims have also been made against Canadian Neil Bantleman, an administrator at the school, and Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong. They have been in police custody since mid-July.

The family of one boy allegedly abused has also filed a civil suit against the school seeking $125m in damages.