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Tracy Bantleman’s days start early, as she sets off on the 60 to 90 minute commute to Cipinang, a maximum security prison in Jakarta, Indonesia.
That’s where her husband Neil is in the early days of a 10-year sentence for child sex assault convictions — allegations he denies and says have been fabricated against him. She wants to arrive in time for morning visiting hours.
Once she gets there, she has to go through security checks and searches. Only then can she enter the small room where the pair can sit on a mat where the two can talk. Sometimes the visit happens in a larger, cafeteria-style room where they sit across picnic tables. Their visits can last an hour to 90 minutes.
It has been three weeks since a court found teacher Neil Bantleman, of Burlington Ont., and Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong guilty of child rape charges and sentenced the pair to a decade behind bars.
The toll on Tracy is “exhausting,” but nothing compared to her husband’s experience.
“If this can happen to Neil, it can happen to them. It can happen to anyone.”– Tracy Bantleman
“It’s a little bit like groundhog day,” she said, describing her new routine. She spoke with CBC Hamilton from Jakarta Wednesday.
Tracy said her husband is teaching English to other inmates, keeping fit and reading profusely — the last book he finished was the biography of Nelson Mandela. Mandela spent 27 years in a South African prison.
Campaign to prove innocence
Outside of the prison visits, Tracy carries on the campaign to prove Neil’s innocence. She walks a fine line of public perception. To the Canadian government her husband has called the charges against him “extortion” in an open letter to the Prime Minister’s Office. To Indonesian courts, the pair are patient dealing with a culture she says “a quiet approach is often better.”
“I try to be as diplomatic as I can so that I don’t offend anyone,” Bantleman said. “But at the same time, you know it’s very difficult not to speak out and shout out against injustice.”
Both feel the case against Neil Bantleman, in which he was held without charges for months, has been falsified.
They feel that the allegations by three children who alleged repeated rape at the Jakarta Intercultural School (formerly Jakarta International School), were conjured up to pursue a civil case against the school to the tune of $125-million (USD).
Five janitors who worked at the school, which serves as a school for the wealthy and children of international diplomats, also received guilty sentences for the same allegations, and are serving eight years in prison.
The wife of Tjiong has launched complaints against the parents of the alleged victims and doctors who testified against Bantleman and Tjiong, alleging perjury.
Tracy Bantleman can see her husband Neil at this visiting room at the Cipinang prison five days a week. Visits can last up to 2 hours, and there is a morning and afternoon session. (rutancipinang.info)
Tracey says Neil’s conditions at the Cipinang prison are barren: He has small cement pad for sleeping in his 4.5 metre by 2 metre cell, which has no fan and plenty of mosquitos.
She, Neil and their lawyers are preparing to appeal the verdict and have filed notice they will do so, but first need to get the official written version of the verdict — which has still not been released.
“My first priority is supporting my husband and being an advocate and reaching out to as many people worldwide as we can to bring attention to the injustice,” Tracy said. “I always felt like I had the capacity to have some perspective in situations, but I’ve learned so much about how the world really works, particularly how life is for some Indonesian people. I think that’s given me an even greater perspective… Neil and Ferdi (Tjiong) are not the only one feeling injustice.”
“If this can happen to Neil, it can happen to them. It can happen to anyone.”
She says the reach of this case not only impacts them, but other teachers working abroad.
“There is an incredible amount of concern for international teachers in taking positions in countries where there is a questionable rule of law,” Tracy said, noting some Indonesian teachers have told her they are reconsidering their stay. “I think people are thinking twice about where they’re moving.”
Read story at cbc.ca