Wife of Canadian teacher detained in Jakarta pleads for husband's release

The wife of a Canadian teacher detained in Indonesia on allegations of child sexual assault is pleading for her husband's release.

Neil Bantleman, 45, has been arrested but not charged in sexual assault case

Neil Bantleman, a former Calgary teacher working at an international school in Indonesia, is now at the centre of a sex abuse scandal. His wife, Tracy Bantleman, says the last week since his arrest has been an "horrific nightmare." (Free Neil Bantleman & Ferdi Tjiong/Facebook)

The wife of a Canadian teacher detained in Indonesia on allegations of child sexual assault is pleading for her husband's release.

Neil Bantleman, 45, who worked at the prestigious Jakarta International School, was arrested last week during a police investigation into the alleged sexual assault of three kindergarten students.

He is using every ounce of energy he has to keep it together.- Tracy Bantleman

His wife Tracy Bantleman, who also teaches at the school, said the week since her husband's arrest has been a "horrific nightmare."

"He is using every ounce of energy he has to keep it together," she said in a phone interview from Jakarta.

Tracy Bantleman, 42, said the prison conditions are "reasonable," and include a clean cell area with a mattress on the floor.

"Physically, he's not looking as strong as I've seen him look before," she said.

"The first thing he says to me is 'I love you, I love you, I love you,' " she said, breaking down crying. "It's so hard to hear your husband cry."

On Monday, former students also stood up in his defence.

Courtney Chaisson was in Neil Bantleman's class for almost a decade at the Webber Academy in Calgary, and told the CBC there is currently no evidence against him. 

"He is someone who was a mentor. Someone I still to this day look up to. He's just a phenomenal teacher, and it's just heartbreaking [for] someone with so much passion and love for his job [to] be caught up in this," Chaisson said. 

Another student, Lauren Webber, knew the Bantlemans from the Webber Academy, but also overseas. She stayed with them from time to time. She now lives overseas, working for a Canadian business council based in South East Asia. 

She says she was one of the first people Tracy Bantleman called when Neil never came home from a nine hour questioning session by Jakarta Police.

"He just put so much energy and passion into his art: teaching and coaching," Webber told the CBC. "A man of the most utmost integrity and honesty.

"What’s happening to them right now is a horrific travesty." 

Online support

Neil's brother, Guy Bantleman, was on CBC's Metro Morning on Monday speaking about the efforts in Canada to gain awareness of his brother's plight — including a Facebook page started to help co-ordinate an international letter writing campaign to have the teachers released. 

Another former Calgary student, Lauren Webber, has also been organizing supporters. She currently lives in Singapore and has stayed close with the Bantlemans. She was one of the first people contacted after Neil Bantleman's arrest.

"We can all just feel helpless, but with the power of social media these days more people have access to the information to feel that they are not helpless, and can actually make a difference and do something," she said.

Webber hopes the Canadian government will soon step in. 

Guy Bantleman said his brother was originally brought in for questioning, but has now been held for more than a week. 

He also said that his brother can be held for 20 days without charges, and even an additional 20 days after that without judicial review. 

"This is, in my mind, more of a week-by-week [situation]," Guy said.  

Local media reported that the police investigation began with the arrest of six outsourced cleaners accused of allegedly raping a young boy in a school bathroom in March. The Jakarta Post reported the parents of two other students filed police reports claiming their sons were sexually assaulted by teachers.

Neil Bantleman was detained along with teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong, who is Indonesian. They have both denied the allegations.

Tracy Bantleman said the two men, who she described as "absolutely the gold standard for teachers across the world," are together in prison. 

"I'm trying to put my full trust in the legal system here, and respect and honour that and hope that they will fairly and transparently investigate the case," she said.

Guy Bantleman said that he has been in touch with the office of Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

"This is about human rights," Guy Bantleman said. "[My brother] has always been the most honourable person you could meet."

'Providing assistance'

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development said details on the case are not being released for privacy reasons.

"Canadian consular officials are providing assistance to a Canadian citizen who has been detained in Indonesia," John Babcock said in an email.

Last week, the three founding embassies of the Jakarta International School issued a joint statement that said Australian, British and American officials are "deeply concerned about the detention of several JIS teachers."

"We believe JIS and its teachers have closely co-operated with police authorities, and we are surprised at these developments given the presumption of innocence in Indonesian law," the statement read.

The teachers, who are being represented by Indonesian attorney Hotman Paris Hutapea, were brought into the police station for questioning on July 14 and then detained in the early hours the next morning.

Hutapea told the Jakarta Post that the police "stepped over the line" by detaining his clients without evidence.

The newspaper reported that police claim to have proof the two teachers drugged kindergarten pupils before sexually assaulting them. Both Bantleman and Tjiong could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Tracy Bantleman said before moving to Indonesia four years ago, she and her husband worked at private schools in Calgary and at the Canadian International School in Singapore.

"This kind of allegation as a teacher is the most damaging allegation for your career," she said. "But more importantly, it really impacts who you think you are as a person. That will never go away."

With files from CBC News


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