A Burlington pub is trying to maintain public awareness of the plight of a former local resident imprisoned in Indonesia.
The Judge and Jury has placed a sign in front of its business on the northwest corner of Mainway and Walker’s Line. It faces northbound traffic on Walker’s and westbound vehicles on Mainway.
The billboard, measuring about nine feet by five feet, contains a simple message in black and red lettering, ‘Support Neil Bantleman. Fight for Justice.’
The website freeneilandferdi.org is provided for people seeking more information.
Neil Bantleman, a 46-year-old teacher and an Aldershot High School graduate, has been in prison in Indonesia since July 15, 2014.
He was found guilty of sex assault on boys at a prestigious school in Indonesia on April 2 of this year in a Jakarta courtroom. He was given a 10-year sentence.
The same verdict and penalty were meted out in court at the same time to the co-accused in the case, Bantleman’s friend and colleague at the Jakarta International School (JIS) — now called the Jakarta Intercultural School — Ferdinant Tjiong, 41, a teacher’s aide.
Bantleman and Tjiong have maintained their innocence from the start, filed appeals of their convictions and are awaiting a lower court ruling of the appeals.
Andy and Sonja Marcolin, co-owners of the Judge and Jury — they also own QB Sports in town — have been following Bantleman’s case since last year.
Feeling they had to do something to keep Neil’s name in the spotlight, the couple approached Neil’s brother Guy Bantleman, a local resident, to pitch the idea of a sign. They paid for its production and placement on their business’s property.
It was erected on June 15 and will remain at the corner of the busy intersection through next Thursday (July 2).
“After the (guilty) verdict I was shocked, ” said Sonja, who said she has been following the stream of stories about Neil in the Burlington Post.
“I just thought, ‘What can I do?’ A lot of people I spoke to didn’t seem to know about it, which surprised me. It’s a worldwide case but it’s (also) local, and I thought what a shame that people don’t know about it.”
Andy said what bothers him about the case is his impression that the Canadian government isn’t doing much to support or help Neil.
Guy Bantleman, who met with the Marcolins at their pub on Monday to thank them for putting up the sign, said he continues to correspond regularly with his brother’s wife, Tracy, who visits Neil in prison when she can.
Guy and Tracy texted each other Monday discussing a letter that Neil’s mother, Corrine, is drafting to send to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The 82-year-old will be asking on behalf of the family, once again, for assistance with Neil’s case from his government.
In late April of this year Neil sent a long letter to the PM professing his innocence and pleading for the Canadian government to press Indonesian authorities on the case and its verdict.
“The (Canadian) ambassador (in Indonesia), Donald Bobiash, is pretty good, he’s seen Neil a few times, but they (foreign officials) can’t do anything (significant) without direction from the (Canadian) government,” said Guy.
“We have not heard from the Canadian government since the verdict,” added Guy, who feels Burlington MP Mike Wallace hasn’t been helpful with the case over the last year.
Wallace says he has met with the family once and corresponded with them a few times but that he has little influence.
“There isn’t much a local Member of Parliament can do. My advice is all family members who (have loved ones) in trouble overseas should get in touch with (Canadian) consular services, and my understanding is they have and they’ve been helping them,” Wallace told the Post.
“It’s a criminal code issue and it has to go through the criminal process there. I’m hopeful they’ll be able to exonerate him,” Wallace said of Bantleman’s legal defence team.
“We’re looking at all ways to try to resolve this — through the judicial system, government and third party opportunities,” said Guy.
As for his brother’s current state of mind, he said Neil is starting to show signs of depression after putting on a brave face for the last 11 months.
While Neil and his friend Ferdi have been in jail since July 15, 2014, his team of Indonesian lawyers press on. Lawyer Hotman Paris Hupatea has been handling Neil’s case pro bono (for free) from the outset.
Guy said two other major issues in the case, outside of the verdict appeals, are currently in play.
There is an ongoing investigation by Indonesia’s national police commission, which is looking into the way the case was handled by police investigators.
There is also the drawn out civil lawsuit that the mother of one of the child victims in the case has launched against the international school that her son attended. She initially sought US $13.5M but is now seeking $125M.
A decision in the suit is expected this summer.
The only positive thing that has come from the case to date, said Guy, was Neil winning a libel case against the mother in a neighbouring country. He’s not sure if his brother will ever see any money out of the judgment.
Neil continues to be employed with and paid by the JIS, said Guy, noting many of the school’s parents and administration have supported Neil from the start.
Another development that has Guy somewhat optimistic is his understanding that the CBC’s Fifth Estate program is going to Indonesia to investigate the case. He expects a program segment to air this fall.
Guy has no illusions that his brother’s situation might change for the better in short order. Going through proper channels, like the appeals process, will take time, he acknowledges.
“You’re probably looking at the better part of another year before something happens,” saying he’s glad his mother was able to visit Neil recently for his birthday.