Asia

Why did gay Muslim comics disappear from Instagram?

Screenshot of @Alpantuni's comics Image copyright Twitter/Instagram

Earlier this week, an Instagram account which posted comic strips depicting the struggles of gay Muslims in Indonesia vanished from the social media site.

Indonesia's communications ministry was quick to claim credit, saying it had asked Instagram to take the account down because it contained "pornographic content".

Instagram later denied this claim, saying it had not removed the account.

So where has it disappeared to, and why?

What happened?

The Instagram account - under the username @Alpantuni - featured comic strips that showed the abuse and discrimination faced by a gay Muslim character. It had almost 6,000 followers.

One comic showed the character being told to "burn in hell" and having faeces thrown at him.

Local media outlets say the communications ministry had threatened to block Instagram if @Alpantuni's account was not removed.

According to BBC Indonesia, the ministry also said the public had "participated in reporting the account... to speed up the takedown process".

But Instagram told the BBC the ministry's version of events is wrong.

What does Instagram say?

In a statement, the social network said it "did not remove this account", adding that 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."

It also added that it had "reviewed the account against our community guidelines and found that it does not violate our policies."

Image copyright Twitter/Instagram

What's the public reaction been?

The account has divided people in Indonesia.

Some expressed anger over its content. One Instagram user had asked others to report it, saying its depiction of gay Muslims was not "feasible".

But others defended the account, saying it was just depicting life for gay Muslims in Indonesia.

Image copyright Twitter/fedrianrp

One lecturer at the Fahmina Institute of Islamic Studies said he objected to the comics.

"There is a problem. [Even when the] heterosexuals show sexual relations, it is still considered taboo in Indonesia. For some people, this [comics] can be considered [to be] disrespecting Islam," Abdul Muiz Ghazali told BBC Indonesia.

Another sociology professor expressed similar opinions.

Neng Dara Affifah told BBC Indonesia that though there was no element of pornography in the comics, some of the the contents were "counterproductive".

So what really happened to the account?

It's not clear at this stage.

In screenshots of his comics on Instagram, @Alpantuni had added logos from Facebook and Twitter - showing that he previously had accounts there too. He has now vanished from all three platforms.

Instagram remains the only one the government has spoken out about.

"By falsely boasting of Instagram's removal of a harmless account at their demand, the government has misled the public to sow fear among LGBTI people," said Amnesty International's Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid in a statement.

"At a time when LGBTI people in the country face routine repression... it's vital that social media remain a safe space for anyone to peacefully express themselves."

In recent years Indonesia has shown increasing hostility towards its LGBT community.

Homosexuality is not illegal, however, except in the conservative province of Aceh - the only one that implements strict Islamic law.

Last year, Blued - one of the world's largest gay dating apps - was pulled from Indonesia's Google store in response to government demands.

Two gay men were also publicly caned - receiving 85 lashes each - in Aceh last year. The pair, aged 20 and 23, had been found in bed together.

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