Indonesian president urged to protect gay rights amid app row

A man browses the specific gay emojis from an instant messaging application in Jakarta. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
A man browses the specific gay emojis from an instant messaging application in Jakarta. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has been urged to protect gay and lesbian rights, a day after his government told instant messaging apps to remove stickers featuring same-sex couples.

It is the latest high-profile attempt to discourage visible homosexuality in what is a socially conservative country.

In a letter to the president, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said his government should publicly condemn officials who make “grossly discriminatory remarks” against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. “President Jokowi should urgently condemn anti-LGBT remarks by officials before such rhetoric opens the door to more abuses,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at the New York-based group. “The president has long championed pluralism and diversity. This is an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment.”

The government move against instant messaging apps 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.

But the co-ordinating minister for politics, law and security Luhut Pandjaitan told reporters society should not respond to differences among people with discrimination, social exclusion or violence.

LGBT people “are citizens who have the right to be protected in this dignified nation,” Mr Pandjaitan said. “Don’t be quick to judge people, we must reflect on ourselves first because we cannot guarantee it will not happen to your children and grandchildren in the future.”

Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, but is a sensitive issue in the Muslim nation of more than 250 million people. Official responses range from calls for tolerance to outright condemnation. At the same time, most of Indonesian society is tolerant, with gay and transsexual entertainers often appearing on television shows.

But information and communications ministry spokesman Ismail Cawidu, backing the move to ban the app stickers, said:“Social media must respect the culture and local wisdom of the country where they have large numbers of users.”