JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia has granted clemency to a Canadian teacher convicted of sexually abusing students, an official said on Friday, in a case that critics say was riddled with irregularities and threw a spotlight on the Southeast Asian country’s justice system.
Neil Bantleman and Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong were convicted in 2014 on charges of abusing kindergarten students at the Jakarta Intercultural School, where the children of many expatriates, diplomats and wealthy Indonesians are enrolled.
The pair have always maintained their innocence and the lack of transparency in the case was criticized by Canada and the United States, adding to concern about the lack of legal certainty in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
Sri Utami, director general of correctional affairs at Indonesia’s Law and Human Rights ministry, confirmed in a text message to Reuters that Bantleman had been granted clemency.
Bantleman’s brother, Guy, said in a statement: “I am pleased to confirm that my brother Neil has safely returned to Canada.”
Bantleman was cited in the statement as saying: “Five years ago I was wrongfully accused and convicted of crimes I did not commit and furthermore never occurred.”
His clemency petition included a handwritten note in which he appealed to President Joko Widodo to allow him to return to his family in Canada to have the “opportunity to once again become a contributing and productive member of society”.
His jail sentence had been reduced from 11 years to 5 years and one month, though he would still be required to pay a fine of 100 million rupiah ($7,100), according to a copy of Widodo’s clemency decision.
The two were originally sentenced to 10 years in jail but were acquitted in August 2015, after nearly a year behind bars, and released.
However, Indonesia’s Supreme Court later overturned the acquittal, extended their jail sentence and ordered their re-arrest, a decision the Canadian embassy in Jakarta called unjust.
Lawyer Denny Kailimang, who represents both men, said Tjiong remained in jail because he felt sending a petition for clemency meant he would be admitting guilt.
Five janitors from the school were also jailed over the case. Police said a sixth suspect killed himself.
Bantleman in his statement thanked family and friends around the world for their support and “the government of Canada for their steadfast commitment to seeing us home”.
“We are asking for privacy at this time so we can reconnect with family and move forward with our lives,” he said.
Additional reporting by Angie Teo; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel