Neil Bantleman's Acquittal Overturned In Indonesia

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said the Canadian government "is deeply dismayed and shocked" by an Indonesian Supreme Court decision to overturn the acquittal of Canadian schoolteacher Neil Bantleman.

In its decision, the high court also ordered both Bantleman and an Indonesian teaching assistant to serve 11 years in prison instead of the 10 years they initially received for sexually abusing three young children at a prestigious international school in Jakarta.

Bantleman and Ferdinant Tijong were sentenced in April 2015 but maintained their innocence and filed appeals to the High Court, which acquitted them last August.

Supreme Court spokesman Suhadi said a three-member judge panel handed down its verdict on Wednesday based on the prosecutors' appeal.

"This case was not handled in a fair and transparent manner."

"The judge panel concluded that the defendants were proven to have violated the 2007 Child Protection Law," said Suhadi, who uses a single name. "It did not only reinstate the District Court's verdict but also lengthened the sentence to 11 years."

The pair were also ordered to pay a $7,440 fine each or to serve six more months in jail.

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.

Bantleman's brother, Guy Bantleman, said they will get started on the judicial review right away.

"He's devastated," Guy Bantleman, speaking from his home in Burlington, Ont., said of his sibling.

"We obviously thought we were very close to the end of this process and from what we understood things were moving in our favour — and this came completely out of left field and caught us all off guard."

Guy Bantleman was buoyed by Dion's comments, calling them the strongest words from the Canadian government "since this nightmare started."

Dion said in a statement early Thursday: "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."

'Serious implications' for Indonesia's reputation

He said Bantleman and Tijong "were not provided the opportunity to demonstrate their innocence, and despite Canada's repeated calls for due process, he added, "this case was not handled in a fair and transparent manner."

Dion also warned that the outcome of this case has "serious implications for Indonesia's reputation as a safe place for Canadians to work, travel and invest as well as for Canada's long history of co-operation with Indonesia."

Dion said Canada would continue to raise the case of Bantleman at the highest levels while Canadian officials continue to provide consular assistance to Bantleman.

neil bantleman
The high court ordered Bantleman to serve 11 years in prison instead of 10 years. (The Canadian Press)

Chandra Saptaji, head of the general crime section at the South Jakarta Prosecutors' Office, said Tijong was taken from his house early in the day and was now serving his sentence at the Cipinang Prison in eastern Jakarta.

"We are still looking for Bantleman, who is actually under a ban to leave the country," Saptaji said. "Hopefully, he is co-operative and complying with Indonesia law."

Guy Bantleman said his brother wasn't in Jakarta at the time and will speak with Canadian consular officials before turning himself in. Guy Bantleman said he will be speaking the Dion's staff Thursday to figure out the next steps.

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.

"We are shocked and disappointed by the decision announced by the Supreme Court to sentence two international school teachers," Blake said in a statement. "It is not clear what evidence the Supreme Court used to overturn the High Court's decision."

Others arrested in same case

Bantleman and Tijong worked at the Jakarta International School, which is now called the Jakarta Intercultural School.

Children of foreign diplomats, expatriates and Indonesia's elite attend the school, which has 2,400 students aged three to 18 from about 60 countries. The school's principal and a number of other teachers have said they believe Bantleman is innocent.

Last December, five janitors at the school who were arrested in the same case were sentenced to up to eight years in jail. Police said a sixth suspect in that group died by suicide.

With files from The Associated Press