The Jakarta Post
The government and social media platform Instagram gave conflicting statements regarding the shutdown of an Instagram account that posted a comic strip depicting the struggles of a gay Muslim man living in a religiously conservative society.
The government claimed on Wednesday that the social media giant, which is highly popular among Indonesians, had removed the account after an outcry from Indonesian internet users, who have in the past few years been in the grip of a moral panic about the LGBT community.
Only hours after the government made the announcement, Instagram issued a statement denying such a claim.
“Instagram did not remove this account. There are a number of other reasons why an account may no longer be accessible, including, for example, if the account holder deleted the account, deactivated the account or changed the account username,” said an Instagram spokesperson.
The account has stirred controversy in Indonesia, particularly ahead of the general election in April as anti-LGBT sentiment is rising with politicians whipping up homophobia to get votes.
The comic strip tells the story of Alpantuni, a practicing Muslim who is also gay and has to struggle with discrimination because of his sexual orientation.
The Instagram account @alpantuni was created in November last year, but only gained the attention of Indonesian netizens last week. As of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the account was no longer accessible, according to a statement released by the Communications and Information Ministry.
The ministry claimed that the account was shut down based on its request to Instagram, Antara reported.
The account, it said, violated Article 27 paragraph 1 of the 2008 Electronic Information and Transactions Law on the distribution of pornographic content.
The ministry, however, stopped short of mentioning which part of the comic strip was pornographic. The information is crucial as it is believed that the government initially failed to provide legal grounds to request the account’s removal because Indonesia does not criminalize homosexuality.
The Instagram account has triggered a torrent of complaints from Indonesian netizens who found the comic strip offensive.
“Same-sex relations are already forbidden by Islam but the account’s owner had the guts to fill its feed with gay-themed content. I felt disappointed and wanted the account to be removed,” social media user Anis Mirfaqoh said, who also tagged the ministry’s official Instagram account in a comment beneath one comic strip post to push the initiative.
Despite the brouhaha, it is not clear who managed the Instagram account, which features the comic strip in English and Indonesian and uses the hashtags #gayindonesia, #gaymalaysia, #komikmalaysia and #gaymuslims.
Some suspected the owner was not even Indonesian, but actually Malaysian.
The Jakarta Police said they were now investigating the case to find the person behind the controversial social media account.
Nabillah Saputri of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) questioned the ministry’s decision to request the account’s removal as she believed the comic strip represented the “social reality” of the discrimination against the LGBT community.
“If [the comic strip is banned], that means the government condones the prevailing discrimination against minority groups like the LGBT community,” Nabillah said. (mai)
The article was updated at 9:36 p.m. on Feb. 13.