JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s highest Muslim clerical council is to issue an edict, or fatwa, declaring the spreading of fake news un-Islamic, the organisation’s chairman said on Wednesday.
Indonesia has one of the world’s highest number of Facebook and Twitter users, and the biggest Muslim population, and concern is growing that fake news is fuelling religious and ethnic tension.
“We will issue it as soon as possible, because the situation is worrying,” said Maaruf Amin, chairman of the Indonesia Ulema Council.
“Hopefully, at least Muslims won’t be involved anymore in hoaxes.”
The council is not a government or lawmaking body and its fatwas are not legally binding.
The edict is expected before a hotly contested election on Feb. 15 for governor of the capital, Jakarta, with an ethnic Chinese, Christian incumbent running against two Muslim candidates.
Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok as he is known, has been embroiled in a blasphemy trial in which he stands accused of insulting the Koran.
The case arose from an incorrectly subtitled video, which went viral on social media late last year, of comments that Purnama made about his opponents’ use of the Islamic holy book in political campaigning.
Hundreds of thousands of Muslims led by a hardline group have twice descended on Jakarta to protest against Purnama and call for his jailing, leading to questions in the world’s third largest democracy on the protection of the rights of minorities.
President Joko Widodo has repeatedly urged social media users to refrain from spreading fake news and the government has invited executives from social media giant Facebook for talks this month to help combat the problem.
The council, with representatives from the country’s main moderate and conservative Muslim groups, frequently issues such edicts but they usually have little immediate impact.
The council last year issued a fatwa against clearing land for plantations by burning vegetation, in an effort to prevent smoke pollution that blankets Southeast Asia almost every year.
Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Robert Birsel