Instagram account depicting gay cartoons removed after pressure from Indonesian government

An Instagram account featuring comic strips depicting the struggles of gay Muslims in Indonesia was closed down on Wednesday after it sparked a frenzy of moral outrage.

The government’s information ministry had requested that the account be shut down for violating the majority Muslim nation’s strict pornography laws, and threatened to block the social media platform if it did not do so.

The authorities claimed that Instagram had removed the account, under the name @Alpantuni, after their demands. 

However, Instagram said it was not involved. 

"There are a number of other reasons why an account may not 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. The Daily Telegraph approached the company for comment, but it did not respond. 

The closure of the account comes amid a sustained crackdown in recent years on the Southeast Asian country’s LGBT community that has targeted them with specialised taskforces and social nuisance laws, and prompted raids on gay saunas and private homes.

Rights activists fear that sexual minorities will come under further attack if the authorities seek to mollify conservative Islamist groups in the run-up to the April general election, even though homosexuality and being transgender is legal in most of the country.

According to Coconuts media, the Instagram account, @alpantuni, which was run anonymously, depicted issues faced by gay men, including a Muslim trapped in a loveless sham marriage who was afraid to come out to his family.

In another storyline, a character lives through the heartbreak of being used by numerous men for sex before he transforms into an anti-LGBT hardline religious figure.

The Jakarta Post republished one of the cartoons, which shows a gay man having feces and insults, including “just die” or “burn in hell”, thrown at him.

When he threatens to leave Islam because he feels oppressed, knives are thrown at him. The tagline to the cartoon reads: “Sometimes s–t is better for your physical health.”

The account had reportedly received a torrent of angry comments from conservative social media users for its criticism of homophobia through the eyes of gay Muslim characters.

Others, however, have defended the account for raising awareness about the challenges faced by Indonesia’s LGBT community.

Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Telegraph that the account should be revived. "It’s a healthy account on the struggles of a gay man in Indonesia," he said. 

“It’s no secret that Indonesia is increasingly becoming an intolerant country, discriminating against gender minorities, including LGBT individuals.” 

Indonesia is an important market for the social media site. The 264-million-strong nation, which has the natural beauty of volcanic islands, lush mountains and breath-taking ocean views, was ranked number 4 on the global travel site Big 7 Travel list of “most instagrammable countries 2019.”

Indonesia’s communications minister had reportedly threatened to block the site if the request to remove @alpantuni was ignored.

On Wednesday, Ferdinandus Setu, the ministry spokesman, thanked the public for reporting the account and Instagram for “speeding up the process” of taking it down. He urged social media users to report any “negative” accounts to a specially-appointed government website.

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