TORONTO – A judge in Indonesia has found Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman guilty on child sex charges.
The court sentenced the teacher to ten years in prison. Prosecutors had been asking for a 12 year term.
Bantleman, of Burlington, Ont., and Ferdinant Tjiong, were arrested in July 2014 and accused of sexually abusing three young children at a prestigious international school.
After hearing about the verdict, Bantleman’s brother spoke with Global News and said the family is shocked.
“I think it’s almost surreal to a point,” said Guy Bantleman. “We’ve been kind of bracing for this result but once you actually hear it, it’s kind of a different level.”
Guy told The Canadian Press he believed the case that was “shrouded in secrecy” and the judge threw out evidence and witnesses the defence presented.
He said there will be an appeal to the Superior Court level, and if that fails, to the Supreme Court level in Jakarta.
Both Bantleman and his co-accused, Ferdinant Tijong, were accused of violating Indonesia’s Child Protection Law, which provides a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail.
Prosecutors told reporters after a hearing last month that heavy sentences were being sought because as teachers, Bantleman and Tijong had traumatized the victims.
Bantleman was previously a physicial education teacher at Calgary’s Webber Academy for ten years and the school’s founder says he was a model teacher.
“There was no sign of any misbehavior whatsoever, the entire time that he was a teacher,” says Neil Webber.
Bantleman has maintained his innocence and the school’s principal and a number of fellow teachers also say the two are innocent.
The Canadian teacher’s wife Tracy Bantleman, says a child who testified was reportedly having difficulty re-telling events he previously told investigators. She spoke to Global News after the verdict was delivered.
“I was fortunate enough for the guard to unlock the cell so I could at least hug my husband and have a few private moments with him, said Tracy Bantleman. “We just told each other that we have to keep moving forward. We hope and pray that the high court will protect the rights of the innocent and hear the facts of the trial.”
Bantleman’s family has pointed out that Bantleman and Tjiong were only arrested after the parents of one of the alleged child victims failed in their efforts to reach a financial settlement with the school over alleged abuse by school janitors.
The janitors have been sentenced to up to eight years in prison following their separate but related trial. Their lawyers have called their verdicts unfair and have vowed to appeal.
The school is attended by children of foreign diplomats, expatriates and Indonesia’s elite. It has 2,400 students aged three to 18 from about 60 countries.
On Thursday morning, Bantleman’s wife Tracy, who also taught at the school, provided Global News with a statement in response to her husband’s conviction. You can read the statement in its entirety below.
“My husband is innocent; he always has been and always will be. I am deeply disheartened and appalled by today’s verdict. The decision of the judges to imprison two innocent men, with no evidence at all is truly cruel, inhumane and heartless. I hoped that this panel of judges had the capacity to act objectively and protect the innocent. It is obvious the judges have ignored the vast amount of evidence presented in support of Neil and Ferdi. For a teacher like my husband, who worked so intensely on providing children the most student centered, pioneering and inquiry based education in the world, to be found guilty of abusing children is utterly demoralizing.What this judgment has proven is that there are ways to manipulate the truth.It is disturbing to think that people cannot look objectively and critically at the facts; our husbands have been sentenced to years in jail based on allegations and opinions that could not be proven with evidence, even after a lengthy trial. My husband and Ferdi are victims of a malicious make-believe story with a multi-million dollar price tag.The allegations against my husband are ridiculous and absurd. The parents have alleged that their children were drugged and abused up to twenty times and sometimes up to six times in one school day. It is impossible that this could occur in any school, anywhere, without someone noticing, including the parents of the children. What is a tragedy is that the lives of the children have been tainted, and forever altered because of their parents’ hysteria and inaccurate assumptions. The investigators were not impartial; they ignored exculpatory evidence and fueled the creation of fantastical stories by allowing the story to evolve along with the investigation. The outcome of this case is daunting for the people of Indonesia, as this panel of judges has validated the work of an unprofessional, haphazard, and questionable police investigation. I am outraged by today’s verdict and fearful for my husband’s safety. My husband has already spent nine months in jail and we are both heartbroken by this experience. We have done nothing but give the best of ourselves to the world. We are terrified of a lengthy prison sentence but are prepared to continue moving forward to live our lives as best we can. I want to thank the thousands of people in Indonesia and around the world whose support and outpouring of love has fueled our determination and kept our spirits up during this nightmare. We will not stop in our pursuit of justice. We know that the truth will prevail and that the injustice will be exposed. We will file an appeal and pray that the next level of court will honor the rights of the innocent.” -statement from Tracy Bantleman, wife of Neil Bantleman
More to come. With files from The Canadian Press.