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Canadian Teacher Wrongfully Convicted of Abusing Students Freed

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JAKARTA – A Canadian teacher wrongfully convicted of allegedly sexually abusing students, in a case that critics say was riddled with irregularities has granted clemency.

Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman and Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong were convicted in 2014 on charges of abusing kindergarten students at the Jakarta Intercultural School.

The student 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 the Canadian and United States governments.

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.

Neil Bantleman’s brother, Guy, said in a statement: “I am pleased to confirm that my brother Neil has safely returned to Canada.”

Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman (centre right) hugs his wife Tracy after he was released from Cipinang prison in Jakarta. – Reuters

Neil 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 five 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 teachers 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.

Neil 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.