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13 Feb, 2019 17:05

Gay Muslim comic strip vanishes from Instagram amid Indonesian government pressure

Gay Muslim comic strip vanishes from Instagram amid Indonesian government pressure

An Indonesian comic strip featuring gay Muslim characters disappeared from Instagram Wednesday amid mounting pressure from the government. The social media giant denies it took it down.

The Indonesian government sent a letter on February 2 asking the company to delete the @alpantuni page, saying it violated Indonesian law prohibiting the distribution of pornography. Indonesian officials went one step further and threatened to block the social media platform in the country.

Alpantuni first appeared in January with the tagline: “Gay Muslim comics for people who are able to think,” garnering some 6,000 followers during its short lifespan. The Indonesian-language comics dealt with LGBTQ issues in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

While it reportedly did depict topless men in bed together it never featured any cartoon nudity during its short-lived run.

“Materials promoting LGBT are against health rules, religious rules and cultural norms. It is not in accordance with Indonesia,” Communications Minister Rudiantara said.

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“For us, being L.G.B.T. is a psychological illness that needs to be cured, and this comic is promoting it,” Muhyiddin Junaidi, a representative of the Council of Ulemas, a group of of Muslim scholars, told The New York Times in a telephone interview.

Instagram claimed it had decided not to remove the account and gave alternative explanations for its sudden disappearance.

“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,” an Instagram spokesman told Reuters.

Homosexuality, though legal, has often been a contentious issue in Indonesia, and has recently come to the fore of international news after regional clampdowns on public displays of affection, which often culminate in corporal punishment in the form of lashes.

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In 2018, the province of Sumatra criminalised “immoral acts” between same sex couples which also included cross-dressing. Meanwhile, Google pulled the Blued gay dating app from the Indonesian version of its app store in response to government pressure.

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