By: Our Correspondent

Siti Hasana was recently sentenced to months in prison at a district
court in Bekasi for her first offence. Her crime? Stealing a hairdryer
and some beauty creams worth under US$100.

Putting an end to the
"judicial mafia" in Indonesia was President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's
main promise in his first 100 days in office. After publicly
acknowledging corrupt practices in the country's legal system, and
setting up a taskforce to tackle it, anticorruption activists say it's
business as usual in Jakarta's graft-ridden courts.

Siti's lawyer Ricky Gunawan, who is providing his services for free, says petty criminals are locked behind bars all the time.

"It
is a very common phenomenon here. I would say the judges don't have a
sense of justice. This is a very small case, and indeed, according to
the laws, giving back the equipment doesn't see the charges dropped, but
the police have the authority, the discretionary authority to drop the
charge. As does the prosecutor and the court. Why should this case even
go to trial?" asked Gunawan.

Siti is a mother of three young
children and says she stole because she was desperate for money. She
tried to settle the matter out of court by paying back the cost of the
goods she stole, but to no avail. Her lawyer from Indonesian legal aid
believes it was likely corruption was involved.

"Not only in
this case, but in almost all cases, it is very hard to prove any
corruption, but we can feel it. We can smell indications of corruption.
In this case I would say there are indications the owner of the shop may
have bribed the prosecutors, but I can't prove that," he said.

It's well known that markuses
or middlemen work illegally in the shadows of the country's police
stations, attorney general's office and courts. They are the common link
in the so-called judicial mafia. They persuade corrupt police officers,
prosecutors and judges to drop a case against a client for the right
amount of money, but for the poor, bribing is out of the question.

Siti's husband Salim says he was told he had to pay a bribe to get his wife bail time.

"I asked how much and said that if it was only around US$10 I could pay
it, but I don't have a lot of money. I said that if it was more than
US$100 then I didn't have that kind of money. After I said that they
didn't let her out," said Salim.

Siti spent three months in jail
before her case went to court and while the poor often end up in
overcrowded prisons, for those that have money, doing time isn't so bad.
Tommy
Suharto, the son of the former dictator, was found guilty of killing
the judge who sentenced him to 18 months in jail for corruption. He
received 15 years in jail, but only spent four of them in prison where
he was served by personal staff in a comfortable room.
Danang
Widoyoko, the coordinator of Indonesian Corruption Watch, says that
stories of inmates living very comfortably in prison are all too common.

"There is a joke in Indonesia that you can buy everything in prison
except a car and get everything except your freedom. If you have money
you can buy everything. You can decorate your cell, or choose which room
you want. If you want air-conditioning or free access for your family –
that is actually offered by prison guards. Of course bribery is
involved and there is still no policy to address this situation," he
said.

Activists say corruption is so entrenched in the legal
system that it is very hard to eliminate. Tama S. Langkun, who heads
Indonesia Corruption Watch's investigation division, was recently
assaulted by four men on motorcycles. He was hit with iron sticks and
suffered severe head injuries. Just before the attack he had revealed
suspiciously large accounts of police generals.

Indonesia's judicial system, says Ricky Gunawan, clearly needs to change.

"The culture of police prosecutors and within the courts it is so
deeply rooted in terms of corruption and it is very hard to eliminate.
It takes time. If internal mechanisms are strengthened then the system
will be more transparent and accountable," said Gunawan.

For Siti Hasana, however, it's too late.

Together
with four women she is pushed in a small van. One of the husbands says
"don't cry, be strong." For Siti that's hard. She is being locked away
from her husband and three small children.

"I am not satisfied
with this, I don't feel guilty. I wanted the verdict to be lower than it
is now. It is not fair, not fair at all. I already paid everything
back, we made an agreement. I don't understand why I had to go on
trial," she said.

This article was first broadcast on Asia
Calling, a regional current affairs radio program produced by
Indonesia's independent radio news agency KBR68H and broadcast in local
languages in 10 countries across Asia. You can find more stories from
Asia Calling at www.asiacalling.org.