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Indonesia Bans Same-Sex Emojis From Messaging Apps

The Indonesian government recently asked instant messaging apps to remove same-sex emojis out of respect for the country’s “culture and local wisdom”.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Communications and Information Ministry spokesman Ismail Cawidu argued that these “somewhat vulgar” stickers could “potentially cause public unrest”. Cawidu also cited the “concerns of mothers for their children in terms of the negative influence the circulation of these LGBT stickers could cause”.

The Japanese-owned instant messaging app LINE, which counted 30 million users in Indonesia by late 2014, responded swiftly to the government's request by removing all LGBT-themed stickers from its Indonesian store. In the past, LINE has also censored its app per China's request, outlawing specific terms such as “Tibet”, “corruption scandals”, “democracy” and “activist”.

Indonesian authorities are now also calling upon WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, to remove its LGBT-themed emojis. Such a task could be difficult as, unlike LINE, whose stickers are available in a store, WhatsApp's emojis are built into the system’s keyboard.

Homosexuality has never been outlawed in Indonesia nor publicly supported, except for in the sharia-governed province of Aceh, where gay sex can be punished with 100 cane strokes.

However, moves such as the recent campaign against same-sex emojis are increasing international concern about discrimination against Indonesia's LGBT citizens. Global nonprofit organization Human Rights Watch recently sent Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo a letter calling attention to the issue.

“We write to express our grave concerns regarding the recent spate of hateful rhetoric by public officials against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Indonesia, and urge you to send an unambiguous message that your administration will defend the fundamental rights of all Indonesians,” the non-governmental organization wrote.

In the meantime, we can only hope Indonesians start ordering these in droves.

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