Canadian teacher’s trial begins in Indonesia, family says he has mixed emotions

The trial of a Canadian teacher accused of sexually abusing three students at an international school in Indonesia began Tuesday by hearing from an alleged victim, his family said.

The opening session, which lasted 11 hours, was met with mixed emotions by Neil Bantleman due to a lack of confidence in the Indonesian justice system, his family said.

“To get to trial, to be able to defend yourself against these accusations is a positive,” Bantleman’s brother, Guy Bantleman told The Canadian Press. “What is daunting are the lack of not-guilty verdicts that occur through the judicial process in Indonesia and the lack of evidence that has got us to this point.”

Bantleman, who is from Burlington, Ont., was arrested in July along with an Indonesia teaching assistant.

They were taken into custody months after janitors contracted to work at the Jakarta International School were arrested following reports from parents of a six-year-old boy who claimed to have been sodomized. The pair were also accused of sexually abusing two other students.

Both men have maintained their innocence. The school’s principal and a number of fellow teachers also say the two are innocent.

The first day of Bantleman’s trial heard from one of the alleged child victims, who testified while wearing a mask in the courtroom, Bantleman’s brother said.

Bantleman and his co-accused, Ferdinant Tjiong, were taken to a holding cell while the child testified during the closed session, but were still questioned about the child’s testimony when they were returned to the courtroom, Bantleman’s brother said.

“The judge has to know that Neil’s not there obviously. Why should he ask that question, it’s mind-boggling,” Bantleman’s brother said. “To me it just emphasizes the corruption in the process and a lack of confidence in what they’re doing.”

Bantleman told the judge he could not comment on the child’s evidence as he wasn’t present for it, his brother said.

Bantleman’s lawyers told the family that the alleged child victim often responded to the prosecutor’s questions with “I don’t know,” “I don’t remember” or “I forget”

The child’s mother also testified later in the day, Bantleman’s brother said, and the court heard that she was often present at the child’s school and volunteered in his class. Court also heard that the child was often taken to and from school by his mother, father and his nanny.

“It is impossible for the parents not to know what happened to their child, especially if it were sodomy, as the mother spent a lot of time with the child, she volunteered almost everyday at school,” Bantleman’s lawyer Patra M. Zen said in a statement.

“There are two things that could explain this — one, there was no sodomy, two, this is a fabricated story.”

Bantleman’s family noted that Bantleman and Tjiong were only arrested after the parents of one of the alleged child victims failed in their efforts to reach a financial settlement with the school over the alleged abuse by the janitors accused in the case.

The janitors have been sentenced to up to eight years in prison following their separate but related trial. Their lawyers have called their verdicts unfair and have vowed to appeal.

Both Bantleman and Tjiong could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Their trial is expected to last three months, a time during which Bantleman’s family is urging Ottawa to publicly declare its support for the Ontario man.

“We’re calling for a statement on behalf of Neil supporting him and making the Indonesia government and authorities aware that the Canadian officials are watching this trial,” Bantleman’s brother said. “There is a lack of evidence and there needs to be transparency to really have a fair trial.”

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