Former Calgary teacher Neil Bantleman has been released from an Indonesian prison and is back in Canada after five years of incarceration.

Bantleman, who was convicted of sex crimes against students in his care in what his supporters call dubious circumstances, was freed in late June and quickly flew back to Canada.

His freedom comes after years of relentless pressure and lobbying from family members, other supporters and the Canadian government.

“We’re obviously elated to have Neil home,” said his brother, Guy.

“It’s obviously been a very trying time and it took various levels of government and negotiations at the very highest levels to have this resolved.”

Neil, he said, returned to Canada with his wife, Tracy, “where there were a lot of tears and hugging . . . he’s good, he’s reintegrating.”

In a statement released Thursday, Neil thanked his family, supporters “around the world” and the Canadian government, while reiterating his innocence.

“Five years ago I was wrongfully accused and convicted of crimes I did not commit and furthermore never occurred,” he said.

“I applied for clemency which I am pleased was granted by Indonesia last month upholding essential justice and human rights. Tracy and I are very happy to be home and reunited with our family.”

A photo of the newly freed man released by his family shows a bearded Neil clad in a Canada T-shirt holding his wife.


Tracy and Neil Bantleman. Neil Bantleman has safely returned to Canada after being granted clemency by Indonesia. Heather Van Sickle photo, supplied.

Last month, Guy said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had been personally involved in efforts to free his brother, a former teacher at Calgary’s Webber Academy.

He wouldn’t elaborate on any agreement that led to the release, but said it could be seen as mutually beneficial to his family and Indonesian authorities.

“There was constant diplomatic-type pressure where everyone’s goals could be achieved,” said Guy, who lives in Hamilton, Ont.

“We’ve been working on this for the past 18 months.”

Last month, Guy said securing his brother’s freedom was becoming more urgent due to his encroaching blindness caused by macular degeneration.

“It’s another hurdle,” he said.

There were also fears he could be released but forbidden to leave Indonesia for a period of time, which could have meant his mother, in her late 80s, might never see him again.

Neil was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of sexually abusing students at the Jakarta International School where he taught.

Critics of that decision have insisted all along it was based on faulty, fabricated evidence.

Last month, Guy said progress on his brother’s release was gaining momentum, while federal authorities cautioned against publicity, fearful negotiations could be put at risk.

Guy wouldn’t say where Neil is currently, though reports say he’s in Ontario. He added he’d be coming back to Calgary in due time.

“We just want some privacy now for Neil,” he said.

Neil Webber, president of Webber Academy, said he was thrilled that Neil and Tracy “are back in Canada after such a terrible ordeal that both of them went through for five years in Indonesia.”

Webber said many staff members at the school have been working to try to get support for Neil through elected officials and through appeals to the Indonesian government.

“But very discouraging over the years,” he said. “We’d heard some rumours that there may be a possibility of Neil’s release this year, but we didn’t know that for sure and we were just hoping that that would happen.”

Webber said he hopes that Neil and Tracy “can get over this ordeal and live a happy life from here on in.”

“I’m sure it’s been a very traumatic experience for them,” he said.

A former Webber Academy teaching colleague of Neil’s, Nancy McKellar, said she reacted with “absolute joy” when she heard the news of his release Thursday.

“I’m floating on Cloud 9,” she said.

Nancy Purdy, who taught with him at the Canadian International School in Singapore, said she is “elated.”

“We’re certainly thrilled for both him and his family,” she said. “Finally, justice is served.”

Neil’s co-accused, Indonesian Ferdi Tijon, remains in prison.

Tijon, Guy said, had been a considerable help to his brother while in prison, given his knowledge of the Indonesian language.

Neil’s final months in prison, he said last month, had been reasonably “comfortable . . . but by no means is it luxury.”

Tracy visited a few times a week and he was brought home-cooked meals, said Guy.

— With files from Yolande Cole

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn





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