Gay Muslim comic strip goes off Instagram after Indonesia outrage

The account depicting gay Muslim characters taken down following a warning letter from Indonesia over its content.

    Instagram has denied claims it removed the controversial account at Indonesia's request [File: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP]
    Instagram has denied claims it removed the controversial account at Indonesia's request [File: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP]

    An Instagram account that published comic strips depicting the struggles of gay Muslims in Indonesia has disappeared from the site after authorities labelled it "pornographic" and threatened to block the social media platform in the country. 

    Indonesia's communications ministry said that Instagram had taken down the account, under the name @Alpantuni, on Wednesday at its request because it was in breach of regulations on content.

    But Instagram said it was not involved.

    151205110810340

    "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 spokesperson told the Reuters news agency.

    The comics depicted gay characters facing discrimination and abuse, which has become increasingly common in Indonesia since late 2015 when conservative politicians and religious leaders began a campaign of portraying lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as a threat to the nation.

    Communications Minister Rudiantara had earlier warned that Instagram could be blocked in Indonesia if the account was not removed.

    "Materials promoting LGBT are against health rules, religious rules and cultural norms. It is not in accordance with Indonesia," the minister told CNN Indonesia.

    An account of the same name on Facebook, which owns Instagram, was also no longer accessible.

    LGBT backlash

    The now-deleted Instagram account, which had about 6,000 followers, published a dozen posts depicting a gay Muslim man named Alpantuni who talked about discrimination and his life in a conservative family.

    150712061122712

    "My family is very religious. I have to pray five times a day, but I've got a secret," the character said in one strip that has since been deleted.

    "I'm very pious in front of others, but in private, I'm gay."

    Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, except in Aceh province under the region's Islamic law, but a backlash against the vulnerable LGBT community is growing and same-sex relationships are widely frowned upon.

    The comic strip sparked heated online debate with some conservatives branding it immoral.

    "Please remove this account and put whoever runs it in prison - this is indecent," one Instagram user wrote.

    "It's not only blaspheming Islam, but it is also destroying morality."

    Others said it was an honest portrait of gay life in the world's biggest Muslim majority country.

    "Gay Muslims are real. Gay Muslims being persecuted by people in their neighbourhood and their conservative families is real," said one Twitter user.

    Human Rights Watch's Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono criticised the government's demands that the account be blocked.

    "That account describes mostly the problems of gay individuals in Indonesia. It's no secret that many LGBT individuals are arrested, their houses raided, some are sentenced to prison terms," he said.

    170418081543735

    "The Indonesian government does not help them in demanding the removal of that account."

    In October, an Indonesian man was arrested for running a Facebook page that catered to the gay community.

    Also last year, Google pulled Blued, one of the world's largest gay dating apps, from the Indonesian version of its online store in response to government demands.

    Ahok: Indonesia's religious tolerance on trial?

    Talk to Al Jazeera

    Ahok: Indonesia's religious tolerance on trial?

    SOURCE: News agencies