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Indonesia’s Information Ministry has asked messaging and social media services such as WhatsApp and Twitter to drop emojis and online stickers that feature same-sex couples in the Muslim-majority country.
Defending the ban, Information Ministry spokesman Ismail Cawidu on Thursday said both social media and messaging services ‘must respect the culture of the country where they have large numbers of users’.
He added, ‘Those things might be considered normal in some Western countries, while in Indonesia it’s practically impossible.’
Japanese instant messaging app Line has already removed its own LGBT-themed stickers and apologised for including them in its sticker store following complaints. According to Quartz, Indonesia is Line’s second biggest market, with 30 million of its 600 million users based in the country.
Line said, ‘Line regrets the incidents of some stickers that are considered sensitive by many people. We ask for your understanding because at the moment we are working on this issue to remove the stickers.’
Other members of the government have also spoken out on LGBT issues, with Science Minister Muhammad Nasir last month saying ‘LGBT groups must not be allowed to flourish’ on university campuses.
He added that LGBT people should be treated equally, but that they should keep their sexuality discreet.
Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister for politics, law and security, also said that society should not respond to differences among people with discrimination or prejudice.
Pandjaitan said LGBT people ‘are citizens who have the right to be protected in this dignified nation. Don’t be quick to judge people, we must reflect on ourselves first because we cannot guarantee it will not happen to your children and grandchildren in the future.’
In response to the ban, however, Human Rights Watch has called on the president to intervene, asking for him to promote equality and reject ‘grossly discriminatory remarks’ by his colleagues.
Graeme Reid, rights director for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues at HRW said President Joko Widodo ‘has long championed pluralism and diversity. This is an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment.’
He went on to say, ‘President Jokowi should urgently condemn anti-LGBT remarks by officials before such rhetoric opens the door to more abuses.’
Speaking to the BBC, Setara Institute’s research director Ismail Hasani said, ‘It brings to the public the message that LGBT is something that must be opposed, and then the public, through various organizations, will enact such opposition.
‘Public opinion in our country is predominantly anti-LGBT, but it is deplorable that the government follows this opinion.’
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country. Although it is a socially conservative country, it is tolerant, and homosexuality is not illegal. Most of Indonesia adheres to a moderate form of Islam, and LGBT personalities often appearing on TV.
Some areas of Indonesia are more conservative than others. Lawmakers in the conservative province of Aceh, for instance, passed a law in 2014 that makes gay sex punishable by corporal punishment.