Neil is in police custody. Any hope of whisking him out of Indonesia is gone
BY ANNALISE KLINGBEIL , POSTMEDIA
|Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman sits on the defendant's chair prior to the start of his trial hearing at South Jakarta District Court in Jakarta, Indonesia, Monday, Dec. 2, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Tatan Syuflana|
Friends and family of a former Calgary schoolteacher are devastated by the latest twist in an Indonesian sex abuse trial that on Thursday reached the highest levels of Canadian government.
On Tuesday, the Indonesian Supreme Court overturned the lower court's decision and ordered Bantleman back to prison, just six months after his acquittal.
From his home in Burlington, Ont., Neil’s brother Guy Bantleman said Thursday his family is disappointed by what’s happened and he’s planning to meet with the department of Foreign Affairs and consular services in Ottawa.
“We were getting to the end of this nightmare but this very sudden and abrupt decision by the Supreme Court is shocking,” he said.
“(Neil is) very taken aback by what’s happened. He was getting in that mindset that freedom was going to be coming to him shortly and the prospect of being in custody again and spending more time in jail, none of that is obviously very appealing.”
Bantleman’s nightmare began almost two years ago when the elite Jakarta Intercultural School (formerly called the Jakarta International School) where he worked was embroiled in controversy after a janitor was accused of raping a five-year-old boy in a school bathroom in March 2014.
Bantleman, who is originally from Burlington, Ont. and taught at Calgary’s private Webber Academy for 10 years, was taken into custody on July 10, 2014 with Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinant Tijong. Months later, both were charged with sexually abusing three young boys at the school, where Bantleman and his wife had worked for four years.
In April 2015, Bantleman and Tijong were found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in jail, in a trial that was widely criticized for irregularities, injustices and a lack of evidence.
The former Calgary teacher and maintained his innocence and appealed the conviction to the Jakarta High Court, which acquitted Bantleman and Tijong of child sexual offences last August.
The pair was released from prison but Bantleman was not permitted to leave the country because of a subsequent appeal filed to the country's Supreme Court.
Bantleman’s brother Guy said a panel was named to oversee the Supreme Court appeal on Monday and by Tuesday evening in Ontario he heard the Indonesian Supreme Court had overturned his brother’s acquittal.
“We’re extremely surprised this transpired. There doesn’t seem to be any justification from the courts on why the reason and rational for their decision,” he said.
In its decision, the high court also ordered both Bantleman and Tijong to serve 11 years in prison instead of the 10 years they initially received and ordered each to pay a $7,440 fine each or serve six more months in jail.
The news spurred a statement from Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion, who says the Canadian government is “deeply dismayed and shocked” by the decision.
It marked the first time the federal government has publicly weighed in on the case.
Dion warned the outcome of the high-profile case has serious implications for Indonesia’s reputation as a safe place for Canadans to work, travel and invest.
“This decision is unjust, given the many grave irregularities throughout the various proceedings in this case and the fact that all evidence presented by the defence has systematically been rejected,” the statement read.
“Despite Canada’s repeated calls for due process, this case was not handled in a fair and transparent manner.”
U.S. Ambassador Robert O. Blake also expressed disappointment over the verdict, saying the outcome of the legal process will impact international views about the rule of law in Indonesia.
Meanwhile, news the respected teacher has been ordered back to prison has devastated his supporters in Calgary.
Nancy McKellar, who worked with Bantelman at Webber Academy and has organized several Calgary rallies and vigils in his honour, said Thursday she was shocked when she heard about the latest development early Thursday morning.
“I felt like my heart was breaking and I’d been punched in the gut,” she said.
“It just seems so overwhelmingly obvious to us here in Canada that they’re innocent.”
Neil Webber, the founder, president and chairman of Webber Academy, where Bantleman worked as a physical education teacher and coach, said Bantleman was a superb teacher.
“Students loved him, teachers loved him, parents loved him,” he said.
“The one word that describes Neil Bantleman best is gentleman.”
Mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters Thursday the news was “very upsetting” and he tweeted Minister Dion asking, “How can we get him home?"
Under Indonesian law, both Bantleman and Tijong still could challenge the sentence by filing for judicial review by the Supreme Court if they have new evidence.
Guy Bantleman said a judicial review would be the last appeal possible for his brother and the family is looking into retaining a Toronto law firm to help with the process.
While Tijong has already been arrested and taken back to prison, Neil was travelling and wasn’t in Jakarta when the ruling was handed down. He’s not yet in custody and is speaking with Canadian consular officials, his brother said.
I wonder, is there any chance he can be smuggled out of that judicial cesspool? Let's hope and pray he can get to the Canadian or US embassy before the police pick him up.
-- With files from The Associated Press