The killings and hardening government rhetoric have raised fears that Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous nation, is now taking some cues from the Philippines as it steps up its own deadly war on drugs. And why not? More than 7,000 people have died in Duterte's drug war since he took office last year, sparking widespread accusations of extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses. Yet the Philippine president has been rewarded with sky-high approval ratings, unquestioned regional influence and glowing praise from President Trump.
Commissioner General Budi Waseso, the head of Indonesia's anti-narcotics agency, offered praise last month for Duterte's drug war and said that he hoped to ramp up drug seizures in the near future. "I never say that we have to follow the Philippines. We have our own laws," said Waseso to Reuters. "I have to say, though, that Duterte's policy shows he is taking care of his citizens."
“[President Widodo] has always had an aggressive stance on drugs, but this is an intensification of rhetoric that is worrying because it can be seen as an endorsement of extrajudicial killings,” said Usman Hamid, the director of Amnesty International Indonesia.
Indonesia, unlike the Philippines, already employs the death penalty legally, including against nonviolent drug traffickers. Widodo has overseen 18 executions since taking office in 2014. But experts agree that Indonesia's drug war has been much less violent than in the Philippines.
Police in Jakarta did not respond to requests for data, but Dr. Jacqui Baker at Murdoch University in Australia estimates that Indonesian police kill hundreds of people each year, numbers roughly in line with those in the U.S. In a significant number of cases, evidence suggests alleged drug traffickers were the victims of extrajudicial executions — and research indicates this number is increasing.
Hamid agreed that the situation in Indonesia is not nearly as severe as in the Philippines, and said that Widodo would face political constraints even if he chose to copy Duterte. But he argued that small steps in that direction are significant, and that the Indonesian president has surely noticed the success Duterte now enjoys at home and abroad.
"It's likely that governments all around this region see the way Trump praised Duterte as a signal that they may take the same approach towards illicit drugs," Hamid said.
In an April phone call, Trump praised Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem … Many countries have the problem, we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that,” said Trump, according to a transcript of the call.
Indonesia has its own recent history of extrajudicial killings. In the 1980s, thousands of suspected criminals and gang members were killed under President Suharto, an authoritarian allied with Washington. The country's human rights commission later blamed police and military for the majority of the deaths.
Widodo is considered more liberal than most of his powerful rivals in Indonesia's young democracy — Suharto left power after more than 30 years in 1998 — and has spent much of 2017 responding to insurgent conservative forces. In April, former ally and Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was sentenced to jail for blasphemy after Islamist groups organized large-scale protests against the Christian politician.
Both Hamid and Baker say that focusing more on a popular drug war may be one way for Widodo to appeal to a broad base of voters, including those to his right.
“I don't think [Widodo] would want to see blood on the streets in the same way that Duterte has stomach for ... but the government has been blindsided by Islam and is scrambling for a narrative that will grab people emotionally,” Baker said.
And, like Hamid, she says even small shifts in Widodo’s language have consequences. “[His] statements legitimize shootings against a certain type of crime,” she said, “and legitimizing them makes it likely we will see more of them.”
Callistasia Anggun Wijaya contributed to this report.