Politics

Neil Bantleman released from Indonesian prison, returns to Canada

A Canadian imprisoned in Indonesia since 2014 after being convicted on charges of sexually exploiting students at a school in Jakarta has returned home, CBC News has confirmed.

Canadian teacher had maintained he was innocent of child sex abuse charges

Neil Bantleman back home in Canada with his wife Tracy. (Heather Van Sickle)

A Canadian teacher imprisoned in Indonesia since 2014 after being convicted on charges of sexually assaulting students at a school in Jakarta has returned home, CBC News has confirmed.

Neil Bantleman said in a media statement today that he has been granted clemency by the Indonesian government. He's been back home in Ontario since the end of June. His family has requested that media outlets respect his privacy.

"Five years ago, I was wrongfully accused and convicted of crimes I did not commit and furthermore never occurred," Bantleman said in the statement. "I applied for clemency, which I am pleased was granted by Indonesia last month, upholding essential justice and human rights."

Bantleman thanked his brother Guy "for the tremendous amount of time, effort and love that he poured into campaigning for my return." He also expressed "deep appreciation to the Government of Canada for their steadfast commitment to seeing us home.

"Most of all, I want to thank my wife Tracy. I have no doubt that without her love and commitment, this day would not have been possible. Her tireless efforts with the coordination and communication between our legal team, school, embassy and family in Canada was the key to securing my freedom."

Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman sits in a holding cell before his verdict in a South Jakarta court April 2, 2015. (Darren Whiteside/Reuters)

Guy Bantleman told CBC News today the experience of hugging his brother after such a long separation was "almost surreal."

"It's going to take some time. All of us just spending some time together and ... getting reacquainted, I guess," he said, laughing.

"We're relieved, obviously. There are some things that we know we're going to have to work through. It's moving on to a different phase. You just don't close the door and settle back in. You've got to deal with it and move it forward."

Bantleman was convicted along with Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong in 2014 on charges of sexually assaulting young students at the Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS), where the children of many expatriates, diplomats and wealthy Indonesians are enrolled.

Neil Bantleman and Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdi Tjiong. (CBC fifth estate)

He and his co-accused were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Bantleman's conviction was overturned in August 2015. Indonesia's Supreme Court reinstated his conviction in February 2016 and added another year to his sentence.

Bantleman, who taught in Calgary as well, has maintained his innocence and the Canadian government has been lobbying hard for his release, arguing he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. An investigation by CBC TV's The Fifth Estate found that critical pieces of the evidence used to convict were seriously flawed.

Guy Bantleman said his brother took a while to adjust to being back home.

"Obviously, five years of your life, and there's that readjustment to freedom, which I think he's doing quite well with and just getting reintegrated with being able to be free and be able to move about and set your own schedule," he said.

He said his brother's release was kept quiet for weeks because of its "terms and conditions" — which he would not discuss — "bilateral relations, the operation of the school, all important factors to keep this confidential as long as possible." He said he would not comment on the status of the case.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland brought up Bantleman's case on multiple occasions with Indonesian officials, sources say. A spokesman for Freeland's office today declined to comment on his release.

A year ago, a source with direct knowledge of Bantleman's case told CBC News the Canadian government saw a window of opportunity opening to secure his release, but it might have to wait until after spring elections because of the controversy surrounding the case and the potential for blowback from Indonesians still convinced of his guilt.

Last October, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Bantleman's family in Burlington, Ont. and said his government had been working with Indonesian officials to obtain a "positive outcome" in his case.