This prison holds no terrors for Tommy. They call it heaven

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The Independent Online

No one who has lived the life of Tommy Suharto could look forward to an 18-month prison sentence, but he could not find a better jail than Jakarta's Cipinang Penitentiary.

No one who has lived the life of Tommy Suharto could look forward to an 18-month prison sentence, but he could not find a better jail than Jakarta's Cipinang Penitentiary.

When, or if, Suharto Junior steps inside, he will find one of the most unusual prisons in Asia, a place described by former inmates as "a university", a "heaven among prisons", and the former home of some of the bravest and most brilliant men in Indonesia.

During the regime of Tommy's father, Cipinang was where political prisoners were most often sent and it was famed for the corruptibility of its guards, and the remarkably high calibre of its inmates. Many were sentenced for "insulting the president", an offence encompassing forceful criticism of Mr Suharto.

Cipinang contained its criminals along with heroes such as Muchtar Pakpahan, the trade union leader, Budiman Sudjatmiko, the young leader of the opposition People's Democratic Party, and Xanana Gusmao, the East Timorese guerrilla leader, now president-in-waiting of his newly independent nation.

In Cipinang, almost anything could be bought or overlooked with a bribe to the right guard. Wives and girlfriends could be smuggled in for conjugal visits and guards sold hard-core inmates marijuana, heroin and ampheta- mines. More than one prisoner vanished after buying the right to go for a walk outside. Political prisoners continued their activist careers as if nothing had happened.

They formed football teams, held cookery competitions and organised gardening rotas. The young members of the People's Democratic Party studied for external university degrees and held seminars. In the 1999 general election, Budiman Sudjatmiko directed his (unsuccessful) campaign from prison. Inmates are not allowed to vote, but they can stand for office.

Smuggling messages in and out was simple, despite official censoring of mail. Visitors frequently brought mobile phones to prisoners. Xanana Gusmao, sentenced for insurrection, continued directing the war against Indonesian occupation from his comfy cell, directing his field commanders in the Timorese jungle by satellite phone.

He was released to house arrest in a "branch" of Cipinang, a bungalow nearby. Here he had a constant stream of diplomats, journalists, and friends, who got in with home-made ID cards, typed and plastic-laminated.

Mr Gusmao was released in February last year. The last of the other political prisoners were given amnesty in December. Now Cipinang holds a higher proportion of people who deserve to be there.

But the Suharto tentacles are long. Last week, a murderer named Agiono, unofficial "boss" of Cipinang, said: "If someone disturbs Tommy, if there is someone who offends him, then I'll hit them." If Tommy ever arrives.

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