Neil Bantleman held in cell with 300 other prisoners, wife says

The wife of a Canadian school teacher acquitted of abusing children at a private school in Indonesia says she is "outraged" after the Southeast Asian country's Supreme Court overturned the decision.

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Neil Bantleman and his fellow teacher Ferdinand Tjiong were sentenced to 10 years in prison last April for allegedly abusing three children. Both appealed to the country's High Court and they were acquitted in August.

But that acquittal was overturned on Wednesday and Bantleman turned himself in to Indonesia custody.

In an appearance on CTV News Channel Sunday, his wife Tracy Bantleman said she was "shocked" and "outraged" by the decision.

"The decision that was made by the Supreme Court was simply rushed reckless and unjust," said Bantleman.

"When he found out he was absolutely shattered."

Bantleman said the family's lawyers have spoken to her husband and told her he is "OK."

"He has shown such bravery in the face of a blatant injustice. I'm extremely proud of this honourable man," she said.

"He is incredible for what he has had to do for a second time: Go back into prison being innocent."

After communicating with authorities through the Canadian Embassy, Bantleman returned from Bali to surrender.

He was then admitted to Cipinang Penitentiary Institution in Jakarta, where Tjiong was also placed in custody.

Bantleman said the next step is to ensure her husband's safety inside the prison.

"Right now he is being held in a cell with 300 other prisoners – this is not a safe location," she said.

Once they have received an official copy of the Supreme Court's verdict, which can take up to a month, Bantleman said the couple's lawyers can file a judicial review through the district court.

Both Bantleman and Tjiong worked at the Jakarta International School, which is now called the Jakarta Intercultural School.

The institution's ranks include the children of foreign diplomats and expatriates from about 60 countries along with Indonesia's elite.

The school's principal and a number of other teachers have said they believe Bantleman is innocent.

Last December, five janitors at the school who were arrested in the same case were sentenced to up to eight years in jail. Police said a sixth suspect in that group died of suicide.

Bantleman said part of the reason her husband didn't return to Canada after he was released in August was that he wanted to continue to fight on his colleague's behalf.

"Neil is going to fight this to the bitter end -- he is innocent. He will not leave (Tjiong) and the innocent cleaners," she said.

Bantleman said the prosecutor's office had also issued a travel ban and immigration officers held his passport, so leaving required their co-operation.

She added that his travel ban expired on February 21, and media coverage indicated that the prosecution pushed the Supreme Court to make a decision around the time of its expiry.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said earlier this week that the Canadian government was "shocked" by Supreme Court's decision, and that the case "was not handled in a fair and transparent manner."

Dion added that Canada would continue to raise Bantleman's case at the highest levels and officials would provide him with consular assistance.

On Sunday, Tracy Bantleman said she was "extremely pleased" with the government's response. She said its efforts helped ensure that her and husband were able to return to Jakarta safely.

"The Canadian government … has been outstanding in their approach, and I feel as though they will not give up on us,' she said.

"It is clear that they want to send a message to Indonesia that this must be corrected."

With files from The Associated Press



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