‘I knew it was going to happen,’ Neil Bantleman says as he returns to his 155th day in custody

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — A sombre Neil Bantleman walked out of court Tuesday morning into the arms of a crying wife, with a prisoner’s vest still over his clothes and a months-long child sex abuse trial looming just a week away.

“I just want this to be over,” Tracy Bantleman said amidst tears as she walked her husband back to his holding cell — his 155th day in custody.

In a hearing at the South Jakarta District Court in Indonesia’s capital, judges rejected the Burlington man’s application to dismiss his charges, ordering him to stand trial for allegedly raping three boys at the international school where he taught.

Judges said the prosecution’s case is valid and that some of the defence’s objections are matters to be raised only at trial.

“I knew it was going to happen, I suppose,” Bantleman, 45, said from behind bars, his voice unsteady. “The chances of (such applications) being accepted aren’t very good.”

An Indonesian co-accused, teaching assistant Ferdinant Tjiong, who just turned 43 on Monday, was also ordered to stand trial.

He and Bantleman face sexual assault charges against three students, age 5 to 6, at the prestigious Jakarta Intercultural School — known as Jakarta International School at the time of the allegations — and would each get a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted.

Lawyers for Bantleman and Tjiong were seeking dismissal through an application called an “exception” over what they call vague allegations, financially motivated complainants and citation of out-of-date laws.

Lawyers said the time frame for the alleged assaults — sometime between 2013 and 2014 — was too broad to allow Bantleman and Tjiong to defend themselves with alibis.

Lawyers also said the parents of one of the boys, who are suing the school for $125 million (U.S.) in relation to the allegations, had offered to not press charges if given money. They said as well the prosecution’s case is built on old articles of law that were rewritten this year and no longer valid.

In a hearing open to the public, a three-member panel of judges acknowledged the wide time frame and the citation of out-of-date laws, but deemed them irrelevant in determining whether to proceed to trial.

They said the prosecution had been “meticulous” in preparing its case — though they did not go into details — and that the motive of the complainants is to be raised only at trial.

“The ‘exception’ by the defendant’s legal team is rejected in its entirety,” Chief Judge Nur Aslam Bustaman said through an interpreter to a courtroom of more than 100 supporters of Bantleman, many wearing T-shirts that read, “Free Neil and Ferdi.”

Bantleman’s subsequent hearing is next Tuesday, when prosecution said the three alleged victims will give testimony via video from an undisclosed location; a member of Bantleman’s defence team has permission to be present. Like all of Bantleman’s hearings before Tuesday, the next one will be closed to public.

Prosecution declined to comment about the case.

Outside court, Hotman Paris Hutapea, one of Bantleman’s lawyers, called the charges against his client part of a “fabrication” and says judges glossed over defence arguments about the broad range of dates.

Hotman added the team will bring the issue of the rejection of the “exception” to the high court, but that will not disrupt the impending trial.

“The high court will review that at the same time (as the trial),” he said.

Also before court is Bantleman’s application to be moved to home detention, away from the maximum-security Cipinang Penitentiary Institution where he says he fears for his safety.

But Hotman said it is unlikely to be approved because of the attention the case has attracted — unless, he says, the Canadian government “does something.”

Hotman said governments make formal statements about the treatment of its citizens overseas all the time — recently, the Indonesian president voiced concern over treatment of the country’s workers in Malaysia — and such statements can make a difference.

He bemoaned what he says is the lack of public support by the Canadian government, which has been quiet on the issue.

“I even fought (verbally) with two staff from the Canadian embassy some time ago,” he said. “I said, ‘You haven’t done enough.’ That’s why they don’t say hello to me any more.”

Canadian consular officials attended Tuesday’s hearing, as they have done for every hearing, but they have said they were not permitted to speak with media.

Tracy Bantleman said her husband is a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and Canada and both countries are jointly providing support, with Canada leading the charge. She said officials are holding high-level talks with their Indonesia counterparts and are in constant contact.

But while British ambassador Moazzam Malik showed up at last Thursday’s hearing, the Canadian government has not publicly shown support despite persistent lobbying by Neil Bantleman’s brother in Burlington, Guy Bantleman.

In a letter to “several senior government officials” sent on Saturday — in addition to some 15 similar letters Guy Bantleman has sent since his brother was arrested in July — Guy Bantleman asked for the government to issue a formal statement for his brother.

“I have not asked the Canadian government to pull Neil out of jail,” he wrote, adding that he asks only the government request that prosecution’s evidence be made public and a “fair and transparent process take place.”

“Why is the Canadian government so ineffective in dealing with this request?”

Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Caitlin Workman told the Star: “Consular assistance is being provided to Mr. Bantleman as well as his family.

“Senior Canadian officials continue to raise this case with their counterparts and engage local authorities to urge for a fair and transparent trial.”

Neil Bantleman’s ordeal began in June, when he was named in an ongoing sexual assault investigation. Allegations were initially directed at six school janitors, but were expanded to include Bantleman and Tjiong.

The men were then subjected to what they allege are shady investigative practices and, for Bantleman, denial of consular access. Bantleman and Tjiong were arrested July 14 and held for more than 100 days without charges, their case thrown back to police three times before prosecutors said on Oct. 29 they would accept it.

The six janitors — one of whom died in custody — have already been tried and are to be sentenced in January.

While prosecution allege the janitors raped the boys 13 times, it did not specify how many times Bantleman and Tjiong allegedly abused the boys.

Patra M. Zen, who had represented the janitors and is now on Bantleman’s legal team, said medical reports prosecution passed to defence showed no signs of abuse.