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Canadian teacher detained in Jakarta jail on accusations of child sexual assault

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Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird is pictured in Ottawa on May 26, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

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Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird is pictured in Ottawa on May 26, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The family of a Canadian teacher detained in an Indonesian jail on allegations of child sexual assault has been trying to enlist Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to help win his release.

Neil Bantleman, 45, was working as a learning co-ordinator at the Jakarta International School, a prestigious school popular with expatriate families.

Bantleman's arrest stemmed from a Jakarta police investigation into the alleged sexual assault of three kindergarten students at the school, local media reports said. He was detained along with teaching assistant Ferdinand Tjiong, who is Indonesian.

The Jakarta Post reported that six outsourced cleaners were arrested for allegedly raping a young boy in a school bathroom in March. Later the parents of two other students filed police reports claiming their sons were sexually assaulted by teachers. The newspaper also reported that one complainant, whose family is suing the school for US $125 million, implicated school teachers.

Bantleman's brother Guy, speaking from his family's home base in Burlington, Ont., is heading efforts in Canada to raise awareness about the case, he said, adding that he has been in touch with Baird's office.

"This is about human rights," Guy Bantleman said. "(My brother) has always been the most honourable person you could meet."

He added that advocating for his brother's release is further complicated by the number of different international bodies involved.

"We are getting responses, it's never as fast as we want unfortunately," he said.

Neil Bantleman's passport is being held by police and his home and office were searched.

"They are co-operating. There is no story, there is no issue, there is no evidence," Guy Bantleman said, adding that Bantleman's wife Tracy, a fellow Jakarta International School teacher, is fighting for her husband's release.

Bantleman said his family was "stunned" at the allegations against his brother.

"My concern is he's half a world away and their process if very different from ours," he said, adding that the goal is to exonerate his brother as quickly as possible and move on from the "nightmare."

John Babcock, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, said details on the case are not being released for privacy reasons.

"Canadian consular officials are providing assistance to a Canadian citizen who has been detained in Indonesia," he said via email.

At a news conference at the Jakarta International School on Wednesday, Tracy Bantleman said her husband of seven years was "absolutely innocent" and pleaded for his release.

The teachers are being represented by Indonesian attorney Hotman Paris Hutapea, who told the Jakarta Post that the police "stepped over the line" by detaining Bantleman and Ferdinand without evidence.

The newspaper also reported that the principal of the elementary school Elsa Donohue has been questioned, but is being categorized as a witness, not a suspect, by Jakarta police. Both Bantleman and Ferdinand could face 15 years in prison if convicted.

Last week the Australian, American and British embassies in Jakarta issued a joint statement on the matter, stating that as the three founding embassies of the Jakarta International School, they are "deeply concerned about the detention of several JIS teachers."

"We believe JIS and its teachers have closely co-operated with police authorities, and we are surprised at these developments given the presumption of innocence in Indonesian law," the statement read.

Chris Megaffin, who has been Bantleman's colleague for the last four years, said the school's teaching staff are "100 per cent behind him."

He said he was "beyond shocked and very sad" when he learned of Bantleman's arrest.

"What I do know is he is a phenomenal teacher ... and an incredible administrator," Megaffin said.

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