Indonesia warns messaging apps to drop same-sex emoticons


JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - Indonesia's government has demanded that instant messaging apps remove stickers featuring same-sex couples, in the latest high-profile attempt to discourage visible homosexuality in the socially conservative country.

The government move comes after a social media backlash against the popular smartphone messaging app Line for having stickers, which are an elaborate type of emoticon, with gay themes in its online store.

Information and Communication Ministry spokesman Ismail Cawidu said Thursday that social media and messaging platforms should drop stickers expressing support for the LGBT community, a common abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

"Social media must respect the culture and local wisdom of the country where they have large numbers of users," he said.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, but is a sensitive issue in the Muslim-majority nation of more than 250 million people. At the same time, most of Indonesian society, which follows a moderate form of Islam, is tolerant, with gay and transsexual entertainers often appearing on television shows.

Line on Tuesday said it had removed all LGBT-related stickers from its local store after receiving complaints from Indonesian users. Twitter and Facebook had exploded with criticism of Line and its competitor WhatsApp for containing gay content.

Ismail said the government would tell WhatsApp to do the same as Line.

Last month, Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir said openly gay students should be banned from the University of Indonesia's campuses. His statements followed controversy over news a sexuality research center planned to offer counselling services for students.

Nasir's statement 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.

Gay rights advocate King Oey urged the government to respect international treaties signed by Indonesia protecting the rights of minorities and women.

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

In 2014, lawmakers in Aceh, a conservative Indonesian province, passed a law that punishes gay sex by public caning and subjects non-Muslims to the region's strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.

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