Far-right activists are posing as journalists in a “deplorable” bid to spread fake news about Muslims breaking lockdown, the government’s Islamophobia advisor has warned.
Imam Qari Asim MBE, chair of Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB), and the Government’s Islamophobia adviser, said that these far-right extremists were hanging around mosques – which have been closed for weeks as part of the lockdown.
Speaking to The Telegraph, the Imam at Makkah Mosque, Leeds, said that far right extremists were exploiting the lockdown “to spread hatred of Muslims”.
He said: “We’ve had reports that people have been going around mosques [in West Yorkshire] pretending to be independent journalists and talking to people, and effectively again trying to gather information and trying to make some footage saying muslims are still congregating.
The Imam warned that local councillors are warning the mosques to be vigilant.
One of them, Neil Walshaw, Labour councillor for Headingley and Hyde Park, confirmed that he had received intelligence that an individual was planning to go to Makkah Mosque, and told the Imam.
Religious buildings and places of worship have been closed for weeks as part of the lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Currently Muslims are celebrating Ramadan, during which, under usual circumstances, communities will visit their local mosque, fast during the day and share an evening meal know as the Iftar, in the evenings.
However the Muslim Council of Britain has urged people to instead celebrate Iftars over Zoom this year, amid further unproven claims that Muslims are continuing to gather in the evenings.
“It’s extremely disappointing that even during such unprecedented times of national emergency, some people have continued to spread hatred of Muslims and unsubstantiated claims that an increase in coronavirus cases will happen during Ramadan because most Muslims tend to have social gatherings.
“Some extreme right-wing groups are trying to use the pandemic to create division. So they’re targeting muslims, in a way which is deplorable… We call on people to stand united and say that such unsubstantiated claims are fake news and should be challenged robustly.”
He said that his own mosque was closed before the lockdown, yet despite this “there are still some people going around and spreading some videos and images spreading to say that muslims are still congregating – but those images and videos were from well before the pandemic.”
A West Yorkshire Police spokesman, said: “The force was aware of a photograph shared early on during lockdown purportedly showing a Mosque in Leeds breaching regulations.
“The matter was investigated and it was found the picture had been taken before lockdown started.
“West Yorkshire Police is also aware of an individual from outside the force area stating he would visit Mosques in West Yorkshire to see if they were complying with lockdown.
“He was visited by officers from another police force area regarding the essential travel element of lockdown, and we are not aware that he or other groups have carried out such activity at Mosques in the West Yorkshire region.”
Source: The Telegraph