Instagram has denied bowing to pressure from the Indonesian government to remove an account which featured a comic strip with gay Muslim characters.
The comic strip posted by user @Alpantuni followed a gay main character who was sometimes shown half-naked in bed with another man.
The Instagram account disappeared on Wednesday (February 13) after the government threatened to block Instagram in Indonesia.
The country’s Information Ministry sent Instagram a letter earlier this month asking for the account to be removed because it allegedly broke a law about distributing pornography, ministry spokesman Ferdinandus Setu told The New York Times.
“Instagram did not remove this account.”
— Ching Yee Wong, Instagram’s head of Asia-Pacific communications
Setu added that the ministry had threatened to stop people from being able to access Instagram in Indonesia if the company did not close the comic strip page.
But Ching Yee Wong, the company’s head of Asia-Pacific communications, told PinkNews that “Instagram did not remove this account.”
“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,” said the Instagram spokesperson.
The company has not responded to PinkNews’ questions about whether it can assure users that it would not remove accounts due to government pressure.
Pages on Facebook and Twitter which seem to belong to the Alpantuni have also disappeared.
Gay Muslim Instagram account prompts backlash in Indonesia
The comic strip account, which used the tagline “Gay Muslim comics for people who are able to think,” was first seen on Instagram last month.
It sparked a furious response in Indonesia, where many accused the artist of spreading pornography and blasphemy.
Muhyiddin Junaidi, who represents an Indonesian Muslim clerical body called the Council of Ulemas, told The New York Times that “God created humans as man and woman, a couple, and there is no third sex.
“For us, being LGBT is a psychological illness that needs to be cured, and this comic is promoting it. That will ruin the people’s faith in the long term.”
Instagram account’s removal comes during LGBT+ crackdown in Indonesia
The pressure placed on Instagram to remove the comic strip page is just the latest example of Indonesian authorities cracking down on queer people.
Pariaman city, which is located near Padang on Sumatra island, passed a law banning gay sex and other “acts that are considered LGBT” last year.
The city of more than 80,000 people will issue one million rupiah (£55) fines to same-sex couples convicted of committing “immoral acts” and to anyone found to be “acting as a transvestite.”
The city’s deputy mayor, Mardison Mahyudin, said that the law was part of a campaign to “eradicate LGBT.”
Last month, it was revealed that Mayor of Padang Mahyeldi Ansharullah has used the Indonesian Army to target and detain queer people, whose existence he said was down to “the influence of jinn, devils,” according to Indonesian news site Tirto.