Candlelight vigil held for jailed Okotoks teacher

Okotoks: Neil Bantleman to be held for another 40 days in Indonesian jail

By: Roxanne Blackwell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Aug 06, 2014 01:33 pm

Left to right, Sophie Gibbs, Dieter and Heidi Frehlich hold a banner pleading for the release of former Okotoks teacher Neil Bantleman from an Indonesian prison during a vigil on July 31.
Left to right, Sophie Gibbs, Dieter and Heidi Frehlich hold a banner pleading for the release of former Okotoks teacher Neil Bantleman from an Indonesian prison during a vigil on July 31.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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Okotokians joined together on July 31 to hold a candlelight vigil for a former Okotoks resident and teacher who has been in an Indonesian jail over child sexual assault allegations since July 14.

The vigil was organized by Catherine Gibbs who taught with Bantleman at Good Shepherd School, and Okotoks resident Sherry Grant who is a family friend of Bantleman’s.

“We've just known (Neil and his wife Tracy) for over 15 years and they've lived here for over 10 years,” Gibbs said at the Okotoks vigil. “He rapidly became a very popular and reputable teacher and he was basically almost working full time because he was requested so much to be a substitute teacher and we developed a friendship immediately.”

Gibbs she first saw the news online and was shocked by the allegations.

“I saw a headline that said ‘Webber Academy teacher jailed in Jakarta’ and I said ‘nope, nope it's not who I think it is.’ and I clicked on it, and it was Neil Bantleman,” she said. “I thought it was a nightmare, I thought I was dreaming. I said there is no way, this can not be happening. And having this vigil right now is still shocking to me because I still can not believe this is happening to such a decent compassionate human being.”

Nearly 30 people gathered in Olde Towne Okotoks to light candles, sing, pray, and share their stories of the Bantlemans. Gibbs said it was important to show their faith in Bantleman and reiterate that they are actively petitioning for his release.

“It was planned because we are here to be together as a family, to give each other hope, to give each other strength,” she said. Other vigils were held in Calgary at Webber Academy and another one in Burlington Ontario where Bantleman is from and has family.

The investigation has made headlines around the world as many have questioned the Indonesian authorities for holding Bantleman as well as his colleagues for over three weeks without charges.

According to reports from the Jakarta Post, under Indonesian law, suspects can be held for up to two months without charges. While Bantleman’s supporters were optimistic he would be released when his detention expired after 20 days, on August 1 Gibbs said they found out the “devastating” news that authorities had decided to hold Bantleman for another 40 days to continue their investigation.

Bantleman and a colleague from Jakarta International School have been accused of sexually assaulting three kindergarten students at the school, and reports also say six janitorial staff members were also arrested earlier in the investigation.

Gibbs said when she first heard the news she immediately contacted Macleod MP John Barlow, who she said immediately looked into the situation. Barlow attended the vigil and said the Canadian government is actively working with the family and Foreign Affairs staff have been going to see Neil on a regular basis.

“It’s very difficult for us to understand, they have an entirely different justice system,” Barlow said at the event. “Our focus right now is to make sure he's being treated well, we've made sure that he's been moved from general population into a more safe secluded area.

“Unfortunately we can't intervene in their justice system, we have to stand back and do what we can to make sure Neil is safe, and let their system play out as best we can.”


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