Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas has called on the country’s judges and prosecutors need to crack down on fake news disseminated through social media platforms like Facebook.

According to the Reuters news agency, Maas, who is a Social Democrat in conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s coalition, has repeatedly warned the US technology company to respect laws against defamation in Germany that are more rigid than in the US.

In an interview with Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper on December 18, he said the principle of free speech did not protect against slander.

“Defamation and malicious gossip are not covered under freedom of speech,” Maas said, just days after other top government officials called for legislation to tackle ‘hate speech’ and fake news on Facebook and other social media platforms,” he said. “Justice authorities must prosecute that, even on the internet,” he said, noting that offenders could face up to five years in jail. Anyone who tries to manipulate the political discussion with lies needs to be aware [of the consequences].”

Fears of fake news ahead of the election have increased after the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maassen, reported a rise in Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns aimed at destabilising German society, reported Reuters.

In a separate report, Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, noted that European Union parliamentary leader Martin Schulz has called for hard, Europe-wide laws to stem the spread of harmful fake news stories. The German government is already looking to draft its own law.

Schulz proposed that Facebook set up a 24-hour hotline to report fake news and harmful bots, and face penalties if the problems were not dealt with in a timely manner. He slammed the idea put forward by some tech companies that they were merely conduits.