Human Rights or Local Values? Same-Sex Emoticons Draw Ire in Indonesia

Indonesia's Communications Ministry, unable to think of anything better to do, is pressuring developers of smartphone messenger apps to remove emoticons displaying LGBT relationships. (JG screenshot of WhatsApp emoticons)

By : Edo Karensa & Alin Almanar | on 5:34 PM February 12, 2016
Category : News, Featured

Jakarta. The Indonesian government moved to crack down on same-sex emoticons and stickers available on popular chatting apps for smartphones following a public protest claiming the apps promote an LGBT lifestyle, which is considered to go against local values.

Communication Ministry spokesman Ismail Cawidu said the ministry will invite the representatives of several over-the-top applications in order to filter LGBT content in the country, but it is not clear whether a regulation or official ban will be implemented.

Several messaging apps reportedly contain LGBT emoticons, including LINE, Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter.

“At this moment, we are asking them to follow the step like LINE has taken by filtering the LGBT emoticons so it cannot  be accessed in Indonesia. If [they] refuse to, we will take the matter to a content management panel,” Ismail said on Thursday (11/02).

Messaging application LINE was the first to drop same-sex emoticons and stickers following the ministry's calls.

"They [app developers] must respect Indonesia's customs, culture and norms," Ismail said.

LINE removed its LGBT stickers on Wednesday.

“We understand how sensitive this issue is and will work hard to ensure such things will not to happen again. LINE is still looking forward for continued support from all parties,” said Teddy Arifianto, LINE Indonesia team leader of public relations.

Human rights vs local values

Separately, Human Rights Watch has called on the government to defend the rights of LGBT people and publicly condemn grossly discriminatory remarks made by state officials.

Local government and education officials have touted discriminatory anti-LGBT measures, including suggesting bans on LGBT student groups on university campuses and ordering police to halt an HIV outreach event for gay and bisexual men, according to HRW.

“President [Joko Widodo] should urgently condemn anti-LGBT remarks by officials before such rhetoric opens the door to more abuses,” LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch, Graeme Reid said in a statement on Thursday, adding that this is an opportunity for Joko to demonstrate his human rights commitment.

Indonesian netizens took to social media with debates and pros and cons responding to the ministry's move to drop the same-sex emoticons from messaging applications.

Twitter account @tsetiadi said: “Foreign researchers are about to announce the discovery of the G-Wave (gravitational-wave, not gay-wave), Indonesian Communication Ministry is busy talking about LGBT emoticons :).”

Blogger @ndorokakung wrote on his twitter account: “In all of history, has a nation ever been destroyed by emoticons?”

Muhammadiyah cleric Fahmi Salim took the predictably bigoted approach in his twitter account and called on LGBT supporters to pay for and take care of the LGBT community "when they suffer from HIV/AIDS."

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