WATCH ABOVE: Neil Bantleman thanked supporters after being released from an Indonesian prison on Friday. Global’s Jenna Freeman reports.
JAKARTA, Indonesia – An Indonesian court has overturned convictions against a Canadian teacher and an Indonesian teaching assistant who were serving 10 years in jail for sexually abusing three young children at a prestigious international school in Jakarta, their lawyer said Friday.
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Neil Bantleman, 45, from Burlington, Ont., and Ferdinant Tjiong were convicted in April by the South Jakarta District Court of violating Indonesia’s child protection law and were also ordered to pay a fine of $7,700 or serve six additional months in jail.
The two were released and greeted by tearful family and cheers from friends and dozens of teachers from their former school as they walked out of Cipinang prison in eastern Jakarta.
“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.”
A spokesman for the Jakarta prosecutor’s office said the High Court’s decision would be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Waluyo – who like many Indonesians uses one name – said they are studying the verdict and will file the appeal within two weeks.
WATCH: The president of Webber Academy (where Bantleman taught for a decade) joins Global Calgary with reaction to the overturned conviction
The two men maintained their innocence and were supported by fellow teachers and the principal at the Jakarta International School, now called the Jakarta Intercultural School.
They filed appeals to the Jakarta High Court and Hotman Paris Hutapea, an Indonesian lawyer representing Bantleman and Tjiong, said the court overturned the indecency convictions for raping three kindergarten students, now 6 and 7 years old, at the school which is attended by children of foreign diplomats, expatriates and Indonesia’s elite. It has 2,400 students aged 3 to 18 from about 60 countries.
“The truth is finally revealed and justice has been done,” Hutapea told The Associated Press on Friday.
READ MORE: Family of Neil Bantleman hopeful after Indonesian court dismisses sex abuse suit
He said earlier that the rape claims were all about money. The principal and a number of other teachers have alleged the same about the case. The parents of one of the children had sued the school for alleged negligence and were seeking $125 million in compensation.
But on Monday, the same district court threw out the civil case brought by the mother of one of the children against the school, saying it was had not proven that any of the alleged abuses had actually taken place since new evidence from medical reports from three different hospitals in Jakarta and Singapore showed no major injuries or abnormalities in the three children.
A statement from Canada’s department of Foreign Affairs said it “welcomed” the Indonesian court’s decision and that the government of Canada had “called on Indonesia to handle Mr. Bantleman’s case in a fair and transparent manner.”
“Canadian officials will continue to provide Mr. Bantleman and his family with consular assistance, as required,” said a spokesperson in the emailed statement.
The decision after a court in Singapore on July 16 ruled that the woman accusing Bantleman had defamed him, Tjiong and the school because the allegations of sexual abuse could not be proven, and ordered the parent to pay a total of $164,700 in damages. The case was brought in Singapore by Bantleman’s family because the initial allegations were made in Singapore through emails, texts and other digital communications.
READ MORE: Neil Bantleman releases statement on court decision
Hutapea said both decisions had an impact on the higher court’s decision to free Bantleman and Tjiong.
The arrests of Bantleman and Tjiong in July last year followed reports from the parents of a six-year-old boy who have been sodomized three months earlier. Four male janitors were sentenced to eight years in jail in that case, while a woman received seven years as an accomplice. Police said a sixth suspect killed himself in custody by drinking bathroom cleaner.
With files from Global News and