A man who auctioned virgins online claims he merely wanted to fund a sexual revolution to free Indonesia from corruption, poverty and violence. Few people are buying it.
Aris Wahyudi (49) was arrested on September 24 for running a short-lived prostitution website called nikahsirri.com that auctioned virgins, widows and single people of either gender for unregistered marriage (nikah sirri).
The site was launched on September 19 and within five days had attracted about 5,670 members and 300 “partners” consisting of potential brides and grooms, as well as wedding officiants and witnesses. Members paid Rp 100,000 (US$7.40) to join and could then purchase virtual coins for Rp 100,000 apiece for bidding. Auctioned partners would receive 80 percent of the proceeds, while Aris would pocket the remaining amount. Due to the unofficial nature of the marriages, couples could divorce within a day.
Aris asserts that virgin auctions are not only halal but also an effort to preserve Indonesian culture and show greater appreciation for women. He said virginity would have been proven either via a medical test or by the sumpah pocong – an oath made while wrapped in a burial shroud. He was asking for trouble, not least by including pornographic photos on the site.
He now faces charges under the Electronic and Information Transactions and Pornography laws. He could also be charged with the Child Protection and the Anti-Human Trafficking laws if police find evidence he offered children for auction.
How did Aris end up running an online prostitution business? A look at his unusual entrepreneurial career can shed some light.
Born in Majenang district of Cilacap regency in Central Java province on May 12, 1968, Aris completed high school in Yogyakarta. He was sufficiently gifted to study chemical engineering at the prestigious Bandung Institute of Technology. Midway through the course in 1986, he received a scholarship from then-technology minister B.J. Habibie to study at England’s Essex University, where he graduated in electrical engineering. He also chaired the local chapter of the Indonesian Students Association.
Upon his return to Indonesia, he worked in radar research for the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (LAPAN), but after two years he left without notice. His superiors felt he should have dedicated his career to LAPAN. Aris then worked as a programmer and management consultant and later wrote two books critiquing the commoditization of religion: Tuhan Tiri (Step-God, 2003) and Perzinahan Suci (Holy Adultery, 2005).
Like many affluent Indonesians aspiring to greater fortune, he tried his hand at politics. In 2008, at the age of 39, he ran for regent of Banyumas in Central Java, as a replacement candidate for Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP). The party’s preferred candidate had jumped ship at the last minute to the Democrat Party and two Islam-based parties. PDIP then tried to nominate a popular local politician but he was already on a ticket for the National Awakening Party (PKB), leaving Aris as the only eligible pre-registered candidate.
According to his mandatory wealth report, Aris had total assets of Rp 4.4 billion (then equivalent to US$475,000) ahead of the election. He ran on the hackneyed platform of “creating economic growth and providing employment”. He tried to attract attention by flying from Jakarta to Purwokerto in a helicopter and also sponsored a local TV talent show. It wasn’t enough. Although PDIP had previously been the strongest party in Banyumas, Aris came in last with only 10.92 percent of the vote.
The election drained much of his wealth. He then busied himself by writing more books. One of them, Robohnya NKRI Kami (The Collapse of Our Unitary State of Indonesia, 2012), claims that Indonesia operates like the 51st state of the United States of America in order to raise public prosperity.
He also wrote a novel, Von Braun Van Java (2011), “based on a true story” of 12 Indonesian high school students who received scholarships from Habibie to study abroad to master space rocket technology.
In July 2015, Aris jumped on the transport app bandwagon with a business called UberJEK, which he ran from rented premises in Pejaten, South Jakarta.
His unusual recruitment process required a body odour test, which involved sniffing the armpits of potential drivers.
Applicants had to pay a Rp 100,000 administration fee. In three months, about 2,000 drivers were recruited but the office was then abandoned. UberJEK was relaunched in May 2016 with the aim of serving areas not covered by GO-JEK, Grab and Uber. Aris had a policy of no uniforms or identifying helmets, purportedly to spare drivers from occupational embarrassment. He told the press his aim was to have the word ojek (motorcycle taxi) included in the Oxford English Dictionary. He also promised a lucky prize draw of millions of mobile phones for new customers. The business failed, prompting allegations it was just a scam to get registration money from drivers.
Indonesian Cinderella Story
Earlier this year, Aris read about Jan Zakobielski, a young German man who operates Cinderella Escorts, a prostitution website that infamously auctioned an 18-year-old Romanian woman’s virginity to a Hong Kong businessman for US$2.4 million.
Eager to emulate and achieve financial success, Aris realised he could not operate an online prostitution business in Indonesia so he gave it a veneer of religious respectability by presenting it as a matchmaking service based on Islamic law. He also thought it would be more acceptable if packaged as part of a political party’s effort to combat poverty and adultery.
Obesity Slimming Sex Party
On the same day that nikahsirri.com went online, Aris launched his own political party, Partai Ponsel (Cellular Phone Party) at his rented house at an Air Force compound in Bekasi. Some journalists covering the event thought it was a joke when the party’s name was revealed to be an acronym for Partai Pelangsingan Obesitas Negara, Startup Ekonomi Luar Biasa (State Obesity Slimming Party, Extraordinary Startup Economy). It soon became clear the party was just a means of promoting online prostitution.
The party claims it would combat “excessively obese government bureaucracy” by reducing the number of civil servants, institutions and regulations that waste people’s time and tax money. Other aspects of its manifesto are more unusual. “While other parties tackle the nation’s complicated problems using intuition, Partai Ponsel applies chaos theory and quantum mechanics,” declares its website, which also contains references to Star Trek.
Aris said Partai Ponsel was openly doing business through nikahsirri.com to fund its activities without having to resort to corruption.
The party promotes polygamy, virgin auctions and “sexual justice” as ways of narrowing the gap between Indonesia’s rich and poor.
Aris equated monogamy to communism because both are grounded in the principle of equality, whereas polygamy is closer to human nature and permitted by Allah.
He said a virginity auction would provide a “dowry” of at least Rp 20 million, giving a poor family sufficient capital to set up a food stall or buy a rice field, thereby reducing unemployment and increasing social justice. “At the moment, virginity in Indonesia is priced too cheaply,” he wrote. “Virginity is a valuable asset of a girl … but it is given freely to a boyfriend who is skilled in seduction or has plied her with alcohol. The girl’s family gets nothing, except shame, because their child has committed adultery, and obscene photos often go viral on the internet.”
Such views outraged women’s and children’s rights groups, but Aris said Indonesia is weak because its people have “embraced a hypocritical, puritanical form of Islam towards sexuality”. He claimed “the hegemony of puritanism” has made Indonesians too hypocritical to acknowledge that the nation’s red-and-white flag symbolizes the blood of newborn babies and the sperm of their fathers.
Partai Ponsel even states that racism and religious intolerance would cease if all Indonesians were more willing to practice mixed-race and inter-faith marriages. The party calls for a “bonobo revolution” – the bonobo being a rare primate in the Congo that uses sex to resolve conflict – because people will not be interested in fighting if they have enough sex.
Ponsel’s website says the party does not care if it is labelled as brutal, vulgar or disrespectful, as it is better to swallow the bitterness of honesty, rather than the sweetness of hypocrisy.
Aris’s wife Rani told reporters her husband had become about 10 percent insane as a result of losing his money in the 2008 election, leading to his controversial activities. She publicly apologized for his errors and said she would be unable to support her children if he remains incarcerated. Police said Aris showed no signs of insanity during interrogation.
Offline, nikah sirri has long been part of Indonesian culture, often as a means of allowing philandering men to take extra wives. It has nothing to do with wealth redistribution or prosperity. Encouraging poor families to sell their daughters for short-term financial gain usually backfires when marriages end in divorce and the money runs out.