JAKARTA - An Instagram account that published comic strips depicting the struggles of gay Muslims in Indonesia has disappeared from the site following a frenzy of moral outrage online in the world's biggest Muslim nation.
The Ministry of Communications said Wednesday that the account under the username Alpatuni was pornographic, which violated the law on information and electronic transactions. In a statement it said Instagram had “fulfilled” its request made in a warning letter for the account to be removed.
Instagram, however, said it had not removed the account. A spokeswoman said there were a number of reasons an account may no longer be accessible including the account holder deleting it, deactivating it or changing the username.
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.
An account of the same name on Facebook, which owns Instagram, was also no longer accessible.
The social media company is regularly in the crosshairs of regulators, rights groups and the public as it unsuccessfully tries to balance what CEO Mark Zuckerberg has called “giving people a voice” and demands for censorship of content posted on the Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp platforms.
Instagram's content guidelines, published in Indonesian, say the service is a mirror of the diversity of the community.
Human Rights Watch's Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono criticized 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. “The Indonesian government does not help them in demanding the removal of that account.”
The communications ministry said it appreciated that members of the community reported the gay Muslim account, which “accelerated” its removal.
Some Indonesian netizens in turn congratulated the ministry. On Twitter, Fahmi Alfansi Pane, a policy analyst at the Indonesian parliament, thanked officials for “acting decisively” to protect public morality but also told The Associated Press he had never seen the comics.
Local media, quoting the communications minister, reported the ministry would block Instagram in Indonesia if the Alpatuni account wasn't removed.
The government frequently threatens to block Western social media and internet companies for content deemed illegal but has never taken such measures, possibly fearful of a public backlash due to the huge popularity of the services with Indonesians.
In 2017, it briefly and partially blocked the Telegram messaging app because of its failure to remove groups linked to violent jihad.