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Indonesia claims it got Instagram to pull a gay comics account

An Instagram account posting comics with gay characters disappeared this week after Indonesian officials pressed the company to take it down. The Indonesian government is now saying that Instagram removed the account, but Instagram denies any involvement. With the situation unclear, Instagram has come under criticism for its alleged censorship of an LGBTQ artist.

The account, Alpantuni, posted comic strips about what it’s like to be gay in a Muslim Indonesian community, showing how gay characters would face abuse and discrimination. It reflected Indonesia’s increasingly conservative political environment where gay men have been targeted by authorities, and in at least one recent case, publicly flogged.

The Indonesian Ministry of Communication said the account violated a law on distribution of pornographic content. It published a statement, spotted by local media, taking credit for helping shut down the account. Now local police have said they’re investigating the owner of the account.

Instagram denies that it shut down the account, suggesting it could have been closed by the owner or had its name changed. It also said the account was legal under Indonesian law and under Instagram’s community guidelines.

“Instagram did not remove this account,” the company said in a statement. “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.”

A Facebook account for Alpantuni also disappeared, according to the Associated Press. The ministry took public credit for both accounts disappearing, adding that Indonesian citizens helped out by reporting the accounts. Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The human rights watchdog Amnesty International criticized Instagram in a statement today, after seeing Indonesia take credit for getting the accounts pulled down. “At a time when Indonesian people face hateful homophobic rhetoric and discrimination, Instagram has failed to be an ally. It should take a bold stand and reinstate the account immediately,” Amnesty’s executive director of Indonesia wrote.

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