Indonesia looks to ban gay emojis

Gay emojis sit uncomfortably with increasingly conservative Indonesia. Source: Flickr

Jakarta wants social networking sites operating in the diverse archipelago to remove any emojis representing same-sex couples from their networks.

Internet messaging app, Line, has already removed all lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual (LGBT) emojis, or smiley faces, after saying it had received complaints from its Indonesian users. Now the increasingly conservative Indonesian government had asked market leaders like Facebook and WhatsApp to do the same and remove the icons, the pro-government Republika newspaper reported.

“No social media may show items that smack of LGBT. Because we have our own rules, like religious values and norms, which they must respect,” information ministry spokesman Ismail Cawidu was quoted saying.

Homosexuality is legal in Indonesia but hardening social attitudes in the Muslim-majority nation make any discussion of sexuality difficult. It is not clear if action would be taken against internet providers that fail to remove the contentious smiley faces and other cartoon icons.

There are fears that the measure points to further declines in individual liberties.

Research director at the Setara Institute Ismail Hasani said:”It brings to the public the message that LGBT is something which must be opposed, and then the public, through various organisations, will enact such opposition. Public opinion in our country is predominantly anti-LGBT but it is deplorable that the government follows this opinion.”

In January, Jakarta’s higher education minister, Muhammad Nasir, said gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people should be banned from Indonesia’s university campuses if they engaged in “public displays of affection”.

“LGBT groups must not be allowed to flourish” on university campuses, he said.

Nasir later said gay citizens should be treated equally but that they should be discreet and not make public displays of their affection.

His statement sparked public controversy in Indonesia for weeks with objections from human rights groups but was backed by the Indonesian Ulema Council, a powerful group of Islamic clerics.

Homosexual rights advocate King Oey urged Jakarta to respect international treaties signed by Indonesia protecting the rights of minority groups and women.

“Gays and lesbians are not illegal in Indonesia,” Oey explained. “We urge people who are concerned with human rights to not sit by silently.”

In 2014, parliamentarians in Aceh, a conservative province in northern Sumatra, passed a law that punished gay sex by public caning and subjects non-Muslims to the region’s strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.

Russia last year ruled that gay emojis were allowed to stay on iPhones, dropping a lawsuit against Apple. All Apple devices in Indonesia have pro-LGBT installed, making it technologically challenging for Jakarta to ban them from all iPhones and iPads.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.