Telegraph - Indonesian clerics are preparing to issue a fatwa against "fake news” after a series of damaging hoaxes on social media which targeted the Chinese and Christian minorities.
The move follows growing concern in the world’s most populous Muslim nation about the spread of fake news – a phenomenon that has been credited with fuelling recent ethnic and political tensions.
Some of the spurious data-x-items in recent months include a claim that China was using contaminated chilli seeds to wage biological warfare against Indonesia, a claim that the design of new monetary notes contains an image of the communist hammer and sickle, and a claim that Indonesia has been inundated by ten million Chinese migrant workers (the government says the number was actually 21,000).
Joko Widodo, the Indonesian president and the subject of numerous viral hoaxes, responded to the latter claim by stating: "Ten million is the number of Chinese tourists we hope will come."
The fake news campaigns have led to public protests and have now prompted the Indonesian Ulema Council to propose a fatwa which would decree that spreading slander and lies is haram, or forbidden.
Ma'ruf Amin, the council’s chairman, said he wanted to co-operate on the fatwa with the government and had discussed it with the minister of communication and education.
"We asked what the government wanted and we provided [religious] guidance so that our approach will not be in opposition to government policy,” he told Fairfax Media.
The spread of fake news comes amid increasing tensions ahead of next month’s gubernatorial election in Jakarta, the capital.
The governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, is Christian and was initially deputy but took the position after the then governor Jokowi, as the president is known, won the 2014 election.
Ahok is running for governor but has been furiously attacked by Islamic hard-liners.
His candidacy has fuelled toxic fake news items, including claims his free vaccination program was an attempt to make girls infertile and so reduce the Indonesian population.
Late last year, he was charged with blasphemy and put on trial following claims he insulted the Koran.
This followed the emergence of a video on Facebook of a speech he made in September in which he claimed his opponents had misused a Koranic verse to attack him. The video went viral and prompted mass demonstrations in Jakarta.
Indonesia, which has a population of about 260 million, has a history of anti-Chinese paranoia and prejudice which has sometimes led to violence and riots. In 1998, about 1,000 people died during two days of horrific anti-Chinese riots fuelled by an economic downturn and food shortages.
The Ulama Council is not an official state body and its fatwas are not law in Indonesia but can sometimes influence public behaviour or encourage criminal prosecutions. Other fatwas have little influence at all.
A recent fatwa banned businesses such as hotels from requiring staff to wear data-x-items celebrating Christmas and a previous, little-followed decree banned the use of Facebook.
Mr Ma'ruf said: "If people want to help enforce them, fine, but what we oppose is if they do sweeping or beat up people, becoming violent."
The government says it plans to create a new agency to combat fake news and a public campaign has called on internet users not to share or spread hoaxes.