Freedom likely for Mexico's 'Twitter Terrorists'
Freedom appears likely for the two people jailed in Mexico's Veracruz state and accused of terrorism for Twitter messages they sent that allegedly sowed panic. The case has thrown a spotlight on Mexicans' increasing reliance on social media networks for information about violence in their hometowns _ and its potential for abuse.
Gilberto Martinez Vera (@gilius_22) and Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola (@MARUCHIBRAVO) were arrested last month after using the micro-blogging site to spread rumors of an attack by drug gangs on a local primary school. They were charged with terrorism and sabotage, crimes that carry penalties of up to 30 years in jail. Human rights and social media advocates were outraged, saying the punishment hardly fit the offense.
The case snowballed into something of an embarrassment for Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte. On Tuesday, he pushed through a new law that would allow prosecution of rumor-mongers on the lesser charge of disturbing the peace. Many analysts saw this as a face-saving attempt by state authorities to make the case go away.
On Wednesday, Duarte (speaking by, what else? Twitter) said the charges against Martinez, a math teacher, and Bravo, a radio commentator, would be dropped (link in Spanish). Their lawyer, Fidel Ordonez, said he expected the pair to be free by the end of the day.
Duarte may have found it especially urgent to dispose of the case given the mounting violence in Veracruz. The irony of jailing people for Twitter use while gunmen brazenly dump bodies in the middle of the city was captured in this cartoon, which shows the governor holding a tweeting bird in a cage while the streets fill with skulls and blood.
-- Tracy Wilkinson and Cecilia Sanchez in Mexico City.
Photo: Protesters demand freedom for the jailed tweeters at Tuesday's session of the Veracruz state congress. Credit: El Universal