Muslim Hard-Liners Accuse Facebook of Blocking Accounts

By Ben Otto and Anita RachmanFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

JAKARTA, Indonesia--Hundreds of hard-line Muslims rallied against Facebook in the Indonesian capital on Friday, accusing the social-media giant of blocking their accounts and threatening to lobby for its ouster from the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.

Police said more than 500 protesters gathered after Friday prayers outside Facebook's office in downtown Jakarta. Clerics speaking from a truck outfitted with a raised platform and loudspeakers said they would pressure Facebook to close its Indonesia operations if the company continues to block their accounts and if groups promoting causes like lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are allowed to maintain accounts.

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Ali Al'Athos, coordinator of the rally, criticized Facebook for allowing users to maintain "accounts that campaign for immorality, such as pornography and LGBT," and others he described as offensive to Islam. "If they want to be fair, close down those [immoral] accounts too," he said.

The influential Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI, which calls for Shariah law in Indonesia and last year helped engineer the electoral defeat of Jakarta's Christian governor, said Facebook had suspended more than 70 accounts of members of groups attending Friday's rally.

A Facebook representative didn't confirm the suspensions, but noted that the company removes content that promotes hatred and violence.

"We allow people to use Facebook to challenge ideas and raise awareness about important issues, but we will remove content that violates our community standards," the representative said. Facebook has longstanding policies against hate speech and removes material that directly attacks people based on race, ethnicity, nationality and religion.

Indonesia has more than 125 million Facebook users, the most after India, the U.S. and Brazil, according to data from the company last year. The country has wrestled with rising religious intolerance in recent years, with the surge of social media and the rise of fake news. Last year, Twitter suspended several accounts of FPI members, including that of its founder and the central executive board.

On Thursday, a court in Sumatra found an Indonesian man guilty of using a Facebook account and other social media to "intentionally [spread] information to incite hate" in 2015, local media reported. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison for violating the country's electronic information and transactions law by spreading hate speech directed at President Joko Widodo and ethnic Chinese.

Semuel Pangerapan, a director general at Indonesia's Communication Ministry, said the government hadn't asked Facebook to block the accounts of FPI members and others, but that "Facebook has its own community standards" and users should abide by them.

The FPI is an increasingly influential group in Indonesian politics and society. In recent years it has helped introduce a large share of more than 400 Shariah-inspired laws, including those that penalize adultery, force women to wear headscarves and restrict them from going out at night.

Write to Ben Otto at ben.otto@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 12, 2018 08:25 ET (13:25 GMT)