An event devoted to K-Pop, the South Korean music genre, in a shopping centre in Magelang in Indonesia, was cut abruptly short on October 14 after photos of participants went viral on social media. They show pairings of people of the same gender seemingly about to kiss.
The people in the pictures were actually doing the “Pocky Challenge”, a popular game in South Korea and Japan in which two people bite opposite ends of a Pocky, a chocolate-covered biscuit stick. The aim is to put one end of the stick in your mouth and to bite as much of it as you can until your opponent lets go of the Pocky, as this video shows.
The game was organised as part of an event called “Little Korea” the previous week in a shopping centre in Magelang, in central Java.
The event mainly consisted of song and dance contests for fans of K-Pop. But according to Coconuts, a news site covering Southeast Asia, while waiting for the jury’s verdict, participants were invited to take part in a “Pocky Challenge” on stage. Each pair of contestants were members of the same gender.
A game that did not go unremarked
Speaking to the national newspaper Kompas, one of the organisers defended this decision to pair contestants of the same gender, saying that it would not have been “acceptable”, for religious reasons, to have women against men in the game.
But the game did not go unremarked. While the event was still taking place, photos of the challenge were posted on social media. Many people assumed the "Pocky Challenge" photos depicted gay people kissing.
Photos of the event were shared on social media.
In a country where conservatives regularly attack the LGBT community, the images caused uproar online.
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Event shut down by police
The indignation was such that police soon turned up and shut down the event. Coconuts reports that officers questioned 13 witnesses, including the shopping centre’s manager, the organisers and spectators. They concluded the show was not of a “pornographic” nature.
On October 15, this Indonesian fact-checking website examined posts alleging an “LGBT event”.
Homosexuality is legal in Indonesia, but strict anti-pornography laws are often used to crack down on the LGBTI community.
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In a report published in July, the NGO Human Rights Watch denounced “illegal arbitrary raids by police and Islamists on private gatherings of LGBT people” throughout 2017. The watchdog says that such intimidation is fanning “a HIV epidemic” in the country because it deters certain at-risk groups from accessing preventative healthcare and treatment.
The chief of police ultimately declared that the event was shut down not because the challenge’s ambiguous nature, but because the organisers did not have a proper permit, Coconuts reported.