IT Ministry says Instagram took down controversial comic strip series about gay Muslim characters

A screenshot of a comic strip by Instagram user @alpantuni, who has received massive backlash in Indonesia for his comic strip series depicting gay Muslim characters.
A screenshot of a comic strip by Instagram user @alpantuni, who has received massive backlash in Indonesia for his comic strip series depicting gay Muslim characters.

Update Feb 14: Contrary to Kominfo’s claim that Instagram complied with the ministry’s wishes to remove the account @alpantuni, Alex Warofka, product policy manager at Facebook (which owns Instagram), has clarified on Twitter saying that Instagram actually did not take any action against @alpantuni, and that the comic artist deleted his own account.

Instagram has fulfilled an Indonesian government request to take down an account that posted comic strips about gay Muslim characters, according to the country’s Information and Communications Ministry (Kominfo). The page is no longer accessible following a huge uproar from many in Indonesia.

In a new press release by Kominfo, the ministry said Instagram has removed the controversial account, named @alpantuni, as of 5 am today after the ministry reported the account. The ministry argued that @alpantuni’s comic strips were “pornographic” and therefore violated the Information and Electronic Transactions Act (UU ITE).

Kominfo, which previously threatened to block Instagram in Indonesia if the social media company didn’t remove the account, also said it appreciates the public for reporting @alpantuni to Instagram en masse, thereby pressuring the photo and video sharing network to speed up its removal of the account.

Previously, an Instagram representative in Indonesia told the media that users are free to report content they deem offensive to the social media platform, but the decision to remove any content ultimately lies with Instagram itself, based on their service’s terms of use and community guidelines.

@alpantuni has been the recipient of a massive moral outrage from Indonesian conservatives this week after the account posted several comic strips criticizing homophobia from an Islamic viewpoint through the eyes of gay Muslim characters.

While told in comic form, the stories seem to be inspired by real, everyday stories about the discrimination and abuse members of Indonesia’s gay community have lived through. The author’s tagline for his comic strip series is, “Gay Muslim comics for people who are able to think.”

In one strip (seen above), one character speaks about his regret at never having come out to his family and the people closest to him. Now married, he’s living a lie and is distant from his wife. In another, one character lives through numerous heartbreaks at the hands of numerous men — who use him only for sex — before he transforms into a hardline religious figure angrily denouncing the LGBT community.

The comic strip also tackles the topic of religious bigotry. In one strip, a gay Muslim character is pelted with feces and dirt for being gay. When he denounces his religion to appease his critics, they continue pelting him with feces and dirt for being an infidel.

While @alpantuni’s comic strips heavily featured Indonesian slang and colloquialism, Kominfo says it believes that the person behind the account is actually Malaysian.

We have reached out to @alpantuni for comment, but the account’s owner declined to make a statement out of fear it might create even more backlash.

Kominfo has blocked a massive amount of content they have deemed to be “negative” in the past, as well as numerous platforms that host said content. Major Internet companies such as Google have complied with the Indonesian government’s requests to remove specific LGBT-related content in the past, such as when the ministry got the tech company to remove LGBT networking apps like Blued from the Google Play store in Indonesia.

While the ministry has blocked somewhat popular websites and platforms in Indonesia like Reddit and Tumblr in the past, it has threatened but never came around to actually blocking Internet giants like Google and Facebook over various infringements.

Also read: #UninstallGojek and the high cost of supporting LGBT rights in Indonesia

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