Neil Bantleman, Canadian teacher, in Indonesian court for start of testimony in sex assault trial
Burlington, Ont., man faces sexual abuse charges involving 6-year-old, 2 other children
Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman was exhausted and emotionally shattered after spending 11 hours in an Indonesian court on Tuesday, his wife said.
The Burlington, Ont., man, who had also worked as a teacher in Calgary, faces allegations that he sexually assaulted a six-year-old boy and two other kindergarten-age children at the Jakarta International School where he worked. Teaching assistant Ferdinand Tijong is also on trial for the same charges.
Neither man has entered a plea, but both have maintained their innocence.
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Tracy Bantleman, the wife of the accused, is in Jakarta and said the trial started at 8:30 a.m. local time and adjourned around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday was the first time testimony has been heard at the trial.
The court heard from the six-year-old boy at the centre of the case. The child was supposed to appear by teleconference, but after technical difficulties in the courtroom, the boy covered his face with a mask and was escorted into the courtroom by his father.
Neil Bantleman was kept out of the court as the boy spoke. When he was allowed to return, the judge asked him what he thought of the boy's testimony, to which he replied he couldn't comment because he didn't hear it.
"That was very frustrating for him," his wife said.
The accused man was allowed to stay in the courtroom as the boy's mother testified.
According to emailed comments from Bantleman’s lawyer, Patra M. Zen, the child’s testimony cannot be used as evidence under Indonesia’s criminal law, and the other evidence his family presented was flimsy.
Zen said during questioning, the child often answered, “I don’t remember” or “I forget.”
The only way they wouldn’t have known, Zen said, was that “there was no sodomy” or “this is a fabricated story.”
Bantleman's legal team maintains there's been no physical evidence of sexual assault put before the court.
Questions about standards of evidence
The lack of evidence prompted a warning Tuesday from the U.S. government.
U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Robert Blake said in a statement to CBC Hamilton that the investigation and the accusations "raise serious questions about the standards of evidence applied."
"The outcome of these cases and what it reveals about the rule of law in Indonesia will have a significant impact on Indonesia’s reputation abroad," Blake's statement continued.
The U.S. Embassy is a founding member of the Jakarta International School.
Guy Bantleman, Neil's brother, said he was encouraged to hear about the U.S. statement.
"That was totally out of left field," he said. "I think that was a fairly strong statement and a very dramatic position."
Guy Bantleman said he hopes to share the U.S. statement with Canadian officials, who he has asked to call for transparency in the Indonesian legal process.
The Canadian government has been repeatedly asked to intervene, but has declined. The government said it's providing consular assistance to Neil Bantleman.
Tuesday was the first day of major arguments in the case. Bantleman had been in court earlier this month to ask that the case be thrown out, but the court denied his application. Bantleman is expected to appear again in court next Tuesday. The trial is expected to take up to three months.
Bantleman, who remains employed and backed by Jakarta International School administrators, has been detained since mid-July. Around 100 teachers and parents from the school community came to court to show their support.
The Jakarta International School is attended by children of foreign diplomats, expatriates and Indonesia's elite. It has 2,400 students aged three to 18 from about 60 countries.
Monday's sentencing of five janitors from the school doesn't bode well for Bantleman's case, his brother said, though according to Tracy Bantleman her husband has a different set of judges.
The four men and one woman were given sentences of up to eight years in prison after they were found guilty of sexual assault on the same six-year-old boy.
The only woman involved in the case received seven years for being an accomplice.
The janitors were arrested in April and went to trial before Bantleman, in almost a preview of the case against the Canadian teacher.
Lawyers for the janitors argued in court that the evidence was weak, noting medical reports found the boy had no major injuries or abnormalities. They also complained that confessions given by the janitors were obtained through police torture, and were later recanted.
Prosecutors said the boy had been sodomized up to 13 times.
Bantleman's trial could take up to three months. It's unclear when his next court appearance will be.
His wife said he is "very fearful for the eventual outcome."