By Cynthia Nagrath
Correction: In the version of this piece posted to TIE’s website last week, Neil Bantleman was erroneously described as a “guidance counselor” at Jakarta Intercultural School. Mr. Bantleman is in fact an administrator, with the official title of Learning Leader. His main role in this capacity is coordinating the school’s service learning program.
On Monday April 6, 2015, just days after his conviction, Neil Bantleman 45, a Canadian administrator at the Jakarta Intercultural School (formerly known as the Jakarta International School), issued a statement thanking his family, friends and supporters.
The embattled educator, whose role as Learning Leader has been to coordinate the school’s service learning program, is facing a 10-year sentence in an Indonesian prison alongside Ferdinand Tjiong, an Indonesian teaching assistant at the school, for allegedly sexually assaulting students in a case that many observers have criticized for poor handling, false accusations, and a lack of evidence. The two men have been held in police custody since July and throughout their entire four-month trial, which concluded with guilty verdicts for the pair.
Following the verdict on April 2nd, Robert O. Blake, the United States ambassador to Indonesia, said in a statement, “Serious questions have arisen in this case regarding the investigative process and lack of credible evidence against the teachers.”
After hearing the verdict, Mr. Bantleman’s wife, Tracy Bantleman 43, also a teacher at JIS, said in a statement, “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 credible evidence at all is truly cruel, inhumane and heartless…”
Members of the international school community have come out in support of Mr. Bantleman through online petitions, letter-writing campaigns, and the creation of a Facebook page called “Free Neil Bantleman & Ferdi Tjiong,” which has nearly 6,000 members.
Both men will be appealing their convictions. In his statement Mr. Bantleman said: “We must continue to fight for justice and truth, failing to do so is a threat to freedom and justice everywhere.” He called the guilty verdict “appalling,” and “a malicious attack” on himself and teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong. He also said that the “panel of judges dismissed every expert and factual witness presented by the defense” and although, “World-renowned experts presented the judges with current research, scientifically based medical evidence and examples of best practices…they chose to ignore it all and be willfully blind to the truth.”
You can read Neil Bantleman’s full statement below.
Statement by Neil Bantleman April 6, 2015
I would like to start by thanking everyone who has stood by Tracy and me and our families over the last nine months and who continue to do so. We are truly humbled by the support and love that we have received and take great comfort in knowing we have so many wonderful people in our lives. This has solidified our faith in the goodness of humankind. I feel fortunate to have the unconditional love of my beautiful wife, family and friends and could ask for or want nothing more. The individuals, groups, friends and strangers alike working on our behalf to share our story, to fight for us and for justice have been truly heart warming and reassuring. I thank you all. We must continue to be strong and to fight for justice and truth; failing to do so is a threat to freedom and justice everywhere.
The decision rendered on Thursday April 2nd by the panel of judges was an appalling demonstration of the current state of the judicial capacity of the South Jakarta District Court. We are saddened by the decision, yet not entirely surprised. We have become painfully aware of the challenges for those seeking justice and the lack of consideration for actual evidence or expert testimony. World-renowned experts presented the judges with current research, scientifically based medical evidence and examples of best practices. Yet they chose to ignore it all and be willfully blind to the truth.
The panel of judges dismissed every expert and factual witness presented by the defense, as well as the submission of exculpatory evidence and relevant information that casts serious doubts on the allegations of abuse. What the judges chose to admit was unscrutinized and unsubstantiated information from a police dossier that contained numerous flaws in theory, practice and legality. The inclusion of testimony from an entirely different case, which was never entered into court proceedings, medical conclusions that violated doctors’ oaths, and opinions based on hearsay from unqualified clinical psychologists acting outside their areas of expertise are just some examples of the multiple issues that exist. This decision was merely based on a repetition of information copied from a police dossier. No valid legal consideration was used to draw their conclusions. When the entirety of a defense is ignored, twisted or omitted, this must raise serious questions as to how anyone could ever put forth a defense?
The judges held the trial behind closed doors, allegedly due to child protection issues, but then completely violated this article of law by releasing the names of all of the alleged victims, and the acts allegedly committed against them, during the open court reading of the verdict. This demonstrates a complete lack of understanding or commitment to the fundamentals of child protection. Standard practices, such as the embassies’ attempts to gain access to the court, the defense discussing the case in the media and writing letters to the district court, and the submission of thousands of letters of support, were grossly misinterpreted as tactics to force a certain decision and to intimidate the judges. The same actions were then listed as aggravating factors in the sentencing.
This conviction is a malicious attack on Ferdi and on me. We were the targets of a judge who seemed to be set on seeking vengeance on an entire school community, the media, and international diplomatic representatives. This decision was not based on legal facts but was the culmination of a highly questionable investigation, prosecution and court proceedings. It is our hope that these proceedings will shed light on the many issues that have arisen and instigate change in police and legal processes within Indonesia.
For those charged with the responsibility for change, the time to act is now. Don’t let the mistakes of the past affect the potential for the future. We are hopeful that the next level of the judicial system will scrutinize this case carefully and seek to rectify the numerous issues and errors committed, setting Indonesia back on the path to true justice and the elimination of corruption and evil. For the sake of all, justice must be served. Our fight is not over yet. I have lived in Indonesia for 5 years and never once has my admiration and respect diminished for the community of Indonesians I have met; it has only grown stronger each and every year. Though I have been tested and tried, and treated inhumanely like this, I still have faith in Indonesia. The people of Indonesia are better than the label of a corrupted country. Together, Indonesians will break free from the stigma – letting truth and justice be upheld in the struggle to live a righteous life.
Posted on 16 April 2015 | Revised version posted on 23 April 2015