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Ghostbuster Busted

Guntur Bumi
Guntur Bumi

Of all the silly programs on Indonesian TV, one of the most idiotic was Pemburu Hantu (Ghost Hunters), which involved a team of Muslim clerics pretending to catch ghosts in “haunted” houses. Although presented as reality TV, the entire show was fiction, designed to make viewers stupid, fearful and gullible. One member of this team of charlatans has been charged with fraud for running a fake health clinic.

Muhammad Susilo Wibowo (32), who used the name Ustadz Guntur Bumi (ustadz is a title for a Muslim preacher), was detained on May 5, following complaints that he mistreated and abused patients at the clinic he operated in Pondok Indah, South Jakarta.

Guntur claimed he could cure people of illnesses through prayer and touch. He would pretend to remove all sorts of things – needles, nails, pebbles, cockroaches, caterpillars and maggots – from patients’ bodies. Such sleight-of-hand magic is easy to perform, especially when patients are treated in a dark room and told to close their eyes.

After 15 patients in March filed complaints dating back to 2011, Guntur refused to comply with police summonses for questioning. When eventually arrested, he claimed to be suffering from a stomach ache so he could not answer questions.

During the success of Pemburu Hantu, which aired from 2004 to 2011 on Lativi (now tvOne after being bought in 2008 by Bakrie Group), Guntur began conducting mass healing sessions. He opened his first clinic in his hometown of Semarang, Central Java. After the show was cancelled, he opened clinics in Bandung, Jakarta and Bali.

Business was profitable, enabling him to amass a collection of Harley Davidson motorcycles. He married former child singer Puput Melati, who has been questioned as a witness after some patients accused her of being an accomplice.

One of the victims, Dirgantoro, said he took his wife to the clinic after seeing it advertised on TV. Upon arrival, he had to pay a registration fee of Rp.500,000. He said Guntur took them into a dark room, ordered them to close their eyes, recited some Koran verses and pretended to extract maggots from his wife’s head, claiming she was a victim of black magic.

To pay for this nonsensical treatment, Dirgantoro was told to buy a goat which would be sacrificed the following morning. He was shown a price list of Rp.5 million, Rp.25 million and Rp.50 million. He said Guntur warned that if he failed to immediately pay Rp.5 million, the black magic would spread to the couple’s son.

Dirgantoro said his wife’s condition did not improve, so Guntur sent a team of four ghost hunters to his house. After examining the rooms, they claimed a pocong (shrouded corpse ghost) was present. The team pretended to trap the non-existent ghost in a bottle – a service that cost Dirgantoro another Rp.10 million.

A 24-year-old woman said she went to Guntur for treatment of a thigh problem. He allegedly told her to undress and close her eyes, and then groped her. She was charged Rp.6 million and told to pay another Rp.7 million for a second session.

Another former patient, Irfangi, urged the Indonesian Ulemas Association (MUI) – the country’s top Islamic authority – to withdraw its endorsement of the phony cleric. MUI said there was no heresy and it was upholding the presumption of innocence.

A man named Dody Rusmansyah, who had been unable to have any children with his wife, visited Guntur in the hope he could help the couple to conceive. Dody’s lawyer said Guntur told the couple they were afflicted by black magic and would have to pay him Rp.75 million to counter the magic.

In the East Kalimantan city of Balikpapan, a former patient named Abdul Hakim accused Guntur of stealing 250 grams of gold jewellery during a treatment session at Abdul’s house in August 2012. He claims Puput was later seen wearing some of the jewellery.

Police on June 6 extended Guntur’s detention, saying they were still gathering evidence against him. He had been trying to reach out-of-court settlements with his victims by returning their money. He also threatened to sue a woman who accused him of molesting her daughter.

The biggest villain in this mess is the Communication and Information Ministry’s Directorate General of Radio, Television and Film. This government body strictly censors programs that it fears may offend Muslims, yet it allowed Pemburu Hantu to be screened for years – making a generation of viewers susceptible to the lies peddled by Guntur.

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