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An unnamed gay Muslim artist known as @alpantuni, who regularly posted comic strips with gay characters and content on Instagram and Facebook, had Indonesia ready to remove Instagram altogether. The work of @alpantuni violated none of the platform’s guidelines, but the conservative Muslim nation felt the comics violated its own laws and were pornographic.
And in the wake of the ordeal, that Instagram account and the artist’s Facebook account have both disappeared outright, with Indonesia claiming the platforms removed the accounts, and Instagram saying, no, it didn’t. (Facebook hasn’t yet responded.)
The artist @alpantuni used social media to post comics pretty regularly for his just-under-6,000 followers. From what we can tell, the text of the comics was most often in his native tongue but occasionally in English. (Note the translated-to-English comic below.)
The Insta account referred to itself as “Gay Muslim comics for people who are able to think.” The substance of his work typically centered around being gay in a conservative Muslim nation, where gay men are targeted by local police and beaten publicly. His characters often dealt with struggle — over being gay, finding love and dealing with bigotry.
Just one year ago, Indonesia’s Communication and Informatics Minister asked the Google Play Store to block Indonesians from downloading nearly 73 LGBTQ apps, after which Google partially accommodated the request by removing one gay dating app — China’s Blued — from its Indonesian Google Play store.
In this case, whether the nation was actually willing to remove Instagram outright — which surely would have sparked public outrage — can’t be confirmed, but Indonesia didn’t have to follow through.
Instead, Indonesia asked Instagram and Facebook to remove the ‘violating’ accounts. According to the Communications Minister, “Materials promoting LGBT are against health rules, religious rules and cultural norms. It is not in accordance with Indonesia.”
And while Indonesia is giving credit to Instagram and Facebook for removing the profiles, Instagram at least says it has nothing to do with the account’s removal.
If the platform did indeed remove @alpantuni, it will face intense backlash. Amnesty International has already criticized the platform, saying, “At a time when Indonesian people face hateful homophobic rhetoric and discrimination, Instagram has failed to be an ally. It should take a bold stand and reinstate the account immediately.”
The Human Rights Watch also weighed in, speaking against the conservative nation: “The Indonesian government does not help [LGBTQ citizens] in demanding the removal of that account.”
An even more scary possibility is that local Indonesian authorities were able to track down @alpantuni and force him to remove his profiles. And we have no way to be sure he’s currently safe.