Pericentromeric satellite repeats are enriched in 5-methylcytosine (5mC). Loss of 5mC at these sequences is common in cancer and is a hallmark of Immunodeficiency, Centromere and Facial abnormalities (ICF) syndrome. While the general importance of 5mC is well-established, the specific functions of 5mC at pericentromeres are less clear. To address this deficiency, we generated a viable animal model of pericentromeric hypomethylation through mutation of the ICF-gene ZBTB24. Deletion of zebrafish zbtb24 caused a progressive loss of 5mC at pericentromeres and ICF-like phenotypes. Hypomethylation of these repeats triggered derepression of pericentromeric transcripts and activation of an interferon-based innate immune response. Injection of pericentromeric RNA is sufficient to elicit this response in wild-type embryos, and mutation of the MDA5-MAVS dsRNA-sensing machinery blocks the response in mutants. These findings identify activation of the innate immune system as an early consequence of pericentromeric hypomethylation, implicating derepression of pericentromeric transcripts as a trigger of autoimmunity.