Former member of South Jakarta cult renovates house to erase traumatic memory

The Jakarta Post/February 10, 2009

A small two-story house with bamboo fences located in the dense residential area of Kebagusan, South Jakarta, was being renovated. Two laborers delivering wooden doors for the work had to bring them in through small alleyways that led to the house.

The owner of the house, A. Kusmana, a former member of a sex cult, said Thursday that he was renovating the house to gradually remove the unpleasant memories of the cult.

For seven years, his house had been the headquarters of a cult whose members allegedly performed group sex rituals and believed that the leader of the cult, Agus Imam Solichin, was god. Up to last month, in his house lived more than 30 people, including 12 children.

"Little by little, I want to change the old aura of the house, to erase the memories," Kusmana said on the front terrace of his house.

The sect, known as Satrio Piningit Weteng Buwono, has come under public scrutiny after Kusmana filed a complaint with the police against Agus last month after the death of his daughter, Ratna Ayu Kusumaningrum.

Kusmana blamed Agus for Ratna's death, saying Agus had prevented her from taking medication as part of the sect's teachings.

Kusmana's nephew, Toni (not his real name), who along with his parents were also members of the sect, said the family did not plan to report Agus to the police. He wished to stay anonymous.

Toni said that Agus, whom sect members called Papi, claimed to be god to his followers and promised them he would bring both their bodies and souls to heaven. Toni said that when the family questioned Agus about Ratna's death a week after she died, he promised that he would explain it all later.

"However, he just left the house, and a couple of days later sent people to fetch his belongings. There were arguments and I guess the neighborhood leaders reported it to the police," he said.

Since then, the usually secretive and tight group has come under the media spotlight. Agus surrendered to the police late last month for fear of his safety, and has been charged with sexual abuse and blasphemy. Police have questioned some 12 members of the sect and a staff member from the Religious Affairs Ministry as an expert witness. The rest of the cult members have all left Kusmana's house.

Jakarta Police told reporters that Agus had instructed his followers to perform sexual intercourse in front of him. But they added Agus had denied forcing them to perform group sex. Agus said the sexual activities were consensual.

Kusmana, a former official with the Jakarta Transportation Agency, said he met Agus in 2002, when Agus claimed to have received a revelation.

Kusmana said he agreed to provide his house as headquarters and follow Agus' teachings, just because he wanted to worship god.

Agus was an alternative healer and claimed to be a descendant of former first president Sukarno. Toni said he recruited people who sought him out for healing.

Toni said during the first years of the sect, Agus instructed people to perform Islamic rituals such as the five daily prayers and fasting. However, he forbade members from contacting other people outside the sect, including neighbors.

"He said there was no sense in us getting involved with other people if we had yet to be good to each other (within the sect)," Toni said.

Toni said his life in the sect was full of guilt and fear. He lost the sense of time, as he was sleep-deprived, having to listen to Agus' sermons from late afternoon through to the next morning.

"If we fell asleep, we would get punished and would not be allowed to sleep for a couple of days," he said.

He said the scariest time was when Agus wore his black robe and walking stick and threatened to put the disobedient in hell.

Psychologist Sartono Mukadis, in a phone interview, said there were methods of coercive persuasion of which both cult leaders and members were usually unaware.

He said the four stages included melting, shaking, planting and maintaining. He said the melting process was the initial process of gaining people's trust. The shaking process was to make people lose their previous values.

"This can be reached through isolation, sleep deprivation, humiliation, threats and punishment."

The next step was to plant new value systems in members and then maintain those values.

Satrio Piningit Weteng Buwono is the latest publicly known sect in Indonesia whose leader claimed to have received divine revelation. Lia Aminudin from the Kingdom of Eden sect claimed she received revelations from the angel Gabriel, while Ahmad Mossadeq from the Al-Qiyadah Al-Islamiyah claimed he was a prophet and a messiah.

Lia and Mossadeq both served time in prison for blasphemy, punishable under the Criminal Code, after the Coordinating Body for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs in the Society (Bakorpakem) declared both sects in defiance of mainstream religious teachings.

Sartono said cults usually emerged during times of economic or political chaos.

"In Indonesia, there is confusion in the religious sphere. People are confused between religion and religious leaders. They believe religious leaders are infallible," he said.

For Toni, he said he was glad everything was over.

"After Agus left, I can sleep as much as I want," he said. He plans to find a job and build a family.

Meanwhile, Kusmana said he would return to the mainstream way of Islamic worship.

"From now on, I will worship god just like how the general people do it," he said.

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