Canadian school administrator Neil Bantleman is hugged by his wife Tracy shortly before his court appearance on April 2. (AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)
JG Exclusive: JIS Teachers Bantleman and Tjiong Speak Out for First Time Since Exoneration
BY :BASTEN GOKKON
SEPTEMBER 27, 2015
Jakarta. “We’ve gone through a roller coaster of emotions over the last year and a half. Fear, anger, relief – all of those things that played a part in everyday life in the last 18 months,” says Neil Bantleman.
“Obviously sitting here today is a great relief rather than sitting in Cipinang, but we still know that there's more steps to be waited before we can finally put everything to rest. So yeah, a mix of emotions is definitely the best way to describe it.”
Bantleman is sitting with his wife Tracy in a room at the Jakarta Intercultural School (previously known as the Jakarta International School) in South Jakarta. The pair, both lifelong educators, are dressed in matching blue batik outfits and holding hands.
Next to them are JIS teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong and his wife Sisca, also holding each other’s hand.
Neither couple lets go for even a moment over the next three hours as the Jakarta Globe’s Basten Gokkon questions them in an in-depth and exclusive interview – the first they have given since Neil and Ferdinand had their conviction for sexual assault of minors thrown out by the Jakarta High Court on Aug. 16.
The pair’s ordeal is a thoroughly documented one, in large part precisely because the court case that initially saw them sentenced to 10 years in prison was so short of the kind of documentation that could be considered credible evidence.
Seen by many as a witch hunt, the case grew out of an investigation last year into the alleged abuse of a 6-year-old boy at the JIS kindergarten campus by a group of janitors.
The whole case, from the investigation through to the trial and the verdict by the South Jakarta District Court, was pockmarked with irregularities such as a paucity of evidence and the questionable testimony given by the witnesses, including the three mothers – Theresia Pipit, Dewi Reich Delpozo and Oguzkan Akarhave – who leveled the accusations. Suspicions of police brutality also linger, following the death of one of the janitors, Azwar, in April last year while in police custody.
For Neil and Ferdi, the exoneration by the high court comes as a major relief. But neither of them feels that justice has truly been done.
“The number one thing that I was really excited about was the moment when I come back home to my wife and kids,” Ferdi says with a sob. “I’m just so overjoyed that I can meet my daughters again and they are as well, especially the second one who is really close to me. She immediately made and gave me an ankle bracelet and told me to never take it off because she said it means she will always be with me. And she gets worried when I go away for a little while. Maybe it’s nothing to most people, but we never really know how she truly feels inside.”
Ferdi says he worries because prosecutors have mounted an appeal with the Supreme Court, and is also angry at the “bad people” whose false accusations turned his world upside down.
“The better part of me tells me to just be patient and pray and forgive them, but the other side just wants to go after them because if we let them go, there will be more victims. Today it's me, next time it could be anyone,” he says.
“I’m just so happy that Ferdi is back home and together with me and the girls,” Sisca says. “But there’s still the fear that my husband will somehow go back in to prison. So I’m not entirely happy yet, but all we can do now is just pray and hope. We’re also extremely tired after what my husband went through. I’m his wife, I can feel his sufferings and kids’ as well. We’re relieved but also exhausted.”
Tracy Bantleman, seemingly on the verge of tears, says the whole ordeal has been a tragic affair.
“It’s really sad what has happened, not just to our families, but the cleaners’ families. The allegations have caused so many people in Indonesia and abroad great heartache and stress, and this situation has been a nightmare,” she says.
“All of us had very happy, stable lives. We were having a wonderful time in Indonesia. We were traveling to the beautiful places … we’ve met so many wonderful, warm people. And then a few people just made our lives miserable.”
The Jakarta Globe presents the rest of this exclusive interview in a six-part series linked below, focusing on the various aspects of Neil and Ferdi’s case:
Editor’s note: Neil and Tracy Bantleman’s statements have been edited for clarity where necessary; Ferdinand and Sisca Tjiong’s statements were in Indonesian, which we have endeavored to translate as accurately and faithfully as possible.