Canadian teacher cleared of child sex abuse now out of Indonesian jail but ordeal is not over

CALGARY — Family and friends of , the former Calgary teacher who was released Friday from prison in Jakarta after his conviction for child sex abuse was overturned, are hoping he will be allowed to return home.

“Our intent was to get him out of prison, which we accomplished,” said Guy Bantleman, the accused’s brother.

“Now we have to work on getting him out of the country, but that might take a few more weeks. We’ll see what the prosecutor’s intent is. ”

Neil Bantleman, 45, walked out of  Cipinang Prison in eastern Jakarta early Friday with his co-accused, Ferdinant Tijong, an Indonesian teaching assistant.

A spokesman for the Jakarta prosecutor’s office has said the decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The two men received 10-year sentences in April. By that time, they had spent over 260 days in jail.

They were arrested last July on charges of sexually abusing three of their students at the Jakarta International School.

ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty ImagesROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty ImagesFreed Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong, left, and Canadian school administrator Neil Bantleman are joined by their wives Fransiska Tjiong (2nf-L) and Tracy Bantleman (R) and hold hands outside Jakarta's Cipinang prison on Aug, 14, 2015 following their release from jail.

With the full support of the principal and fellow teachers, Bantleman and Tijong maintained their innocence throughout and appealed the decision to the Jakarta High Court.

Family, friends and supporters criticized the Indonesian court throughout for a lack of fairness and transparency. The school’s principal and several teachers claimed the case and accompanying $125 million lawsuit were an extortion attempt by the children’s parents.

Medical reports showed no abnormalities in the students involved. However, Bantleman said the court dismissed all evidence in his defence.

All testimony against him was closed to the public, and although the measure was meant to protect the three children’s identities, their names were later released in the verdict.

“I want to say thank you to you all for believing in us,” said Bantleman, who repeatedly hugged and kissed his wife, Tracy.

“We’re happy that the truth has finally come out.”

The teacher from Burlington, Ont. received plenty of support from friends in Calgary, where he used to teach.

‘The emotional ups and downs must have been an incredible ordeal’

Nancy McKellar, one of his former co-workers at the city’s Webber Academy, organized several rallies and vigils since he was arrested.

“We’re just so excited, overjoyed, relieved, all of the above,” McKellar said. “Any positive emotion you could feel, that’s what we’re feeling today.”

Neil Webber, founder and president of Webber Academy, said the court came to the right decision.

“(Bantleman and his wife) have gone through so much,” he said.

“The emotional ups and downs must have been an incredible ordeal for them … he’s such a fine, kind individual. Students loved him here, parents respected him and our staff loved having him here.”

Guy said although his brother is also happy about this development, the struggle is far from over.

“There’s a lot of joy, and that’ll translate into questions,” he said. “There’ll be those initial setbacks where he’s realizing that it’s been 13 months (since he was imprisoned) and has to deal with the new realities of today.”

Guy also says the family has heard nothing yet from the federal government about how it will proceed.

RelatedIndonesian court overturns sex abuse conviction against Canadian teacher‘Mind-boggling’ trial of Canadian found guilty of raping Indonesian students leaves unsettling questionsIndonesian court finds Canadian teacher guilty of sexually abusing three students

Throughout the yearlong ordeal, the family has criticized the Harper government for not intervening. After his conviction, Neil Bantleman wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, asking for greater support from Ottawa.

“The way the government has treated this whole case is deplorable,” Guy said.

“If I had any advice for anyone else, it would be to make sure you know what your rights are and how you get things accomplished. It’s a gamut you’ve got to run to get anything accomplished with the government.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Friday it welcomes the High Court’s decision.

“The Government of has called on to handle Mr. Bantleman’s case in a fair and transparent manner,” said the statement.

“Canadian officials will continue to provide Mr. Bantleman and his family with consular assistance, as required. To protect the privacy of those involved, further details cannot be released.”

Guy says if there is an appeal, his family hopes Bantleman will be able to return to Canada while it is in progress.

Calgary Herald, with files from Sammy Hudes

About Emma McIntosh, Postmedia News