The phrase “this is a nightmare” is so often tossed around for events and occurrences that often have minimal impact in our lives. On June 5, 2014, Neil Bantleman and Ferdinant Tjiong, as well as their friends and families, faced a nightmare, a real, inexplicable nightmare that would not disappear after a day, week, or month, but one that would terrorize their lives for years to come.
After baseless allegations of child sexual abuse – with no evidence in sight – were made against the two teachers who had been working at Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS), appalling violations of basic human rights and of a justice system were committed, as Neil and Ferdinant were taken into custody on July 14, 2014. To the horror of friends, family members, and the JIS community, this detainment soon unfolded into the incarceration of two innocent men. While the phrase ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is a common proverb to many, in this horrendously flawed case and justice system, the phrase ‘guilty until proven innocent’ remains the terrifying reality.
In response, communities both inside and outside Indonesia fought. They fought, they rallied, not only for these two men who are beloved husbands, family members, friends, and mentors to many, but also for the basic necessity of human rights, a necessity that had apparently been taken for granted. Students, teachers, and members of communities from countries around the world persevered by taking action in any way possible – signing petitions, joining Facebook groups, globally spreading the news of the case through Facebook and Twitter statuses, wearing apparel branded #FreeNeilandFerdi, and so forth.
After more than a year of fighting and support, supporters breathed a deep sigh of relief, as Neil and Ferdi finally received their freedom. Even so, this was a year and two months too late; a year and two months of robbed freedom for these two men, and detrimental consequences that could easily haunt them for a lifetime. However, it finally seemed like the nightmare that had been so all-encompassing had finally ceased.
Yet again, injustice prevailed. A shock decision was made by the Supreme Court on February 24, in which the acquittal of Neil and Ferdi was overturned. Furthermore, the two men now face a sentence of 11 years in prison, increased from the ten years they faced close to a year ago. Friends, family members, and supporters could do nothing but watch with shock at the inexplicably appalling situation that had unfolded before them.
Even with the constant flood of devastating news, it is important to pause. We must pause in order to remember that with the influx of political and legal information, it is often easy to forget the most important aspect of this case – the humanitarian aspect. For it is the humanitarian aspect of this case that the media often fail to delve into; the basic fact that Neil and Ferdi are human beings, human beings barbarically deprived of the basic freedom we are all unconditionally granted. They are husband, beloved family member, neighbour, friend, mentor, and supporter to many.
They are teachers who arrived with dreams of mentoring, supporting, and changing the lives of students, but who instead are living behind bars due to a baseless, horrifying financial scheme. That in itself is the most horrifying and heartbreaking of all.
But, like all dire situations, there is hope. On February 29, Canadian Ambassador Donald Bobiash guaranteed Neil the Canadian government’s “relentless” efforts to end his incarceration. Furthermore, the two men must first wait for the Supreme Court’s full written verdict, and afterwards, prepare for a judicial review. Said review would deliberate new evidence presented by the defence by a different panel of judges.
We, too, must fight on. Every signed petition, worn wristband and/or t-shirt, Tweet, Facebook post, and weekly vigil for Neil, Ferdi, and the six cleaners also baselessly incarcerated for the same alleged crime (one of whom sadly died during interrogation), is another step closer to ultimate peace and liberty. Every newly informed supporter rallying for their freedom brings us another step closer to the justice of these men. Adding to the gathered hope, courage, and determined strength of the people of Jakarta fighting for their rights, each supporter helps guarantee whatever small amount of justice may be left.
I compose this behind my laptop screen, 10,393 miles away from Jakarta, the place I call home. I hope and pray that even just one more person reading this plea will feel the same aching pain in their hearts as they learn about this atrocious and tragic injustice. One more person who will then feel the same unfaltering resolve to do anything, grand or small, to bring us one step, one baby step closer to freedom and righteousness. In the end, this is nothing more than a simple plea to fight this crime not only against these seven innocent people, but also against all of humanity.
For more information, please visit freeneilandferdi.org