The Indonesian government has ordered messaging apps to remove “gay” emoji and stickers from their apps or face a ban in the country. This follows the latest crackdown on gay rights in Indonesia.
In January, Indonesia’s higher education minister Muhammad Nasir said openly gay students should be banned from the University of Indonesia’s campuses. It was a statement that sparked public controversy in Indonesia for weeks, with objections from human rights groups but support from the Indonesian Ulema Council, an influential board of Muslims clerics.
Popular instant messaging app Line was the first to face a social media backlash for having stickers with “homosexual themes”. Line has since removed all LGBT-related stickers from its local store after complaints from Indonesian users. The company also posted up an official statement on its Facebook page to apologise for making its users “uncomfortable” and promised to ensure that it will not happen again.
“At Line, we stick to the global benchmark for screening and filtering of content that is sensitive from the perspective of the local culture. Line appreciates all the feedback from users and other parties related to the products and features, and we realise how sensitive this matter is and will work hard to ensure that things like this do not happen again,” the statement read.
WhatsApp was also not spared as it has emojis depicting same-sex couples holding hands, a girl kissing a girl, a boy kissing a boy, and same-sex parenting/families.
And the Indonesian government isn’t stopping at just Line or WhatsApp.
Let’s not forget that not too long ago, Facebook added a slew of pride stickers in celebration of Pride month. In the announcement, the social media giant said, “We see this as one more way we can make Facebook a place where people can express their authentic identity.”
20 LGBT-themed stickers were included in the free set, which was released on 31st May 2014.
AFP quoted Ismail Cawidu, a spokesman for the Communication and Information Ministry of Indonesia as saying, “Such contents are not allowed in Indonesia based on our cultural law and the religious norms and the operators must respect that.”
One of the concerns in particular was that the colourful emojis and stickers could appeal to children. “Those things might be considered normal in some Western countries, while in Indonesia it’s practically impossible,” he added.
Technically, homosexuality isn’t illegal in Indonesia (outside of the Aceh province), but it’s still a taboo subject in the socially conservative Muslim-majority country. In October last year, the Aceh province in Indonesia enforced strict laws against homosexuality that punishes gay sex by public caning (100 strokes of the cane) and subjects even non-Muslims and foreigners to the region’s strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.