Indonesia's highest Islamic council to issue fatwa against 'fake news'

‘Hopefully, at least Muslims won’t be involved any more in hoaxes,’ says chairman

Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 01 February 2017 09:37
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A wrongly subtitled video has caused mass protests against the Christian governor of Jakarta
A wrongly subtitled video has caused mass protests against the Christian governor of Jakarta

Indonesia’s highest Muslim authority is to issue a fatwa declaring the spread of “fake news” to be un-Islamic amid concern over sectarian tensions.

The Indonesia Ulema Council’s chairman, Maaruf Amin, said: “We will issue it as soon as possible, because the situation is worrying.

“Hopefully, at least Muslims won’t be involved any more in hoaxes.”

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The religious edict, which is not legally binding, is expected to be issued before the elections for the governor of Jakarta on 15 February, which have been rife with religious tension.

Incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, is running against two Muslim candidates to become the first elected non-Muslim governor in Indonesia.

Ahok, a Christian of Chinese ethnicity, was promoted to his post after his predecessor, Joko Widodo, won the 2014 presidential election and has not yet been tested by a vote.

Right-wing Islamic groups have claimed voters in the world’s largest Muslim country should not vote for “non-believers” and Ahok has been embroiled in a blasphemy trial in which he stands accused of insulting the Koran.

The case was prompted by an incorrectly subtitled video of the politician’s comments on his opponents’ use of the holy book in political campaigning, which went viral on social media last year.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims, led by the hardline Islam Defenders Front, descended on Jakarta twice to protest against Ahok and call for him to be jailed, sparking international alarm over the protection of religious minorities.

It is the latest incident where “fake news” has been linked to social tensions, following the Pizzagate scandal in the US and false stories about Muslim migrants across Europe, which have prompted a court case in Germany.

President Widodo has repeatedly urged social media users to refrain from spreading false posts and the government has invited executives from Facebook for talks to help combat the problem.

Communications minister Rudiantara is to put the Indonesian government’s request for false information to be removed with leaders of Facebook Asia-Pacific at a meeting next week.

The Ulema Council, including representatives from the country’s main moderate and conservative Muslim groups, frequently issues fatwas but they usually have little immediate impact.

An edict was issued last year against clearing land for plantations by burning vegetation, in an effort to prevent pollution.

In December, the council defended another fatwa trying to ban companies from forcing Muslim employees to wear Santa hats and other “Christmas-related attire”, the Jakarta Post reported.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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