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Veracruz proposes lesser charges for Twitter terrorism suspects

September 13, 2011 |  1:58 pm

Twitter supporters protest veracruz

The state of Veracruz in Mexico wants to change its penal code to apply a lower charge against the jailed Twitter and Facebook users accused of terrorism for spreading unconfirmed rumors of an attack on local schools (link in Spanish).

A proposed change in Veracruz's laws would permit the government to punish the two social-networking users now behind bars, but for a lesser offense of "disruption of public order," rather than the original charges of terrorism and sabotage. Those charges carry a maximum sentence of 30 years.

Under the government's plan, teacher Gilberto Martinez Vera and journalist Maria de Jesus "Maruchi" Bravo would be retroactively charged with a crime that isn't even on the books, a scenario that Internet and human rights activists in Mexico promptly denounced as legally unfeasible.

The crime envisioned under the proposed law would carry a sentence of one to four years, meaning that Martinez and Bravo could possibly be set free after posting bail, the Veracruz government said.

In a telephone interview with La Plaza on Monday, Veracruz Interior Secretary Gerardo Buganza affirmed that the proposed law is a response to pressure from activists who have intensified calls for the release of Martinez and Bravo on free-speech grounds.

In addition, Buganza added, the administration of Gov. Javier Duarte was also responding with its plan to calls for "benevolence" from the state's Catholic Church hierarchy (link in Spanish). Martinez and Bravo "coordinated themselves," the secretary said, to spread panic among parents in a city on edge amid an uptick in drug-related violence.

"People were so desperate to reach their children, they blocked streets, they went the wrong way down one-way streets, and in fact even in the hospitals, both public and private, doctors and nurses left the sick to go fetch their kids," Buganza said. "This is very similar to what happened in the United States during the Orson Welles radio show, when no one knew that it was not fact. This was just like that."

Buganza dismissed reports that the parental panic in the port city of Veracuz on Aug. 25 started hours before the first online messages by Martinez and Bravo. Our report last week shows cracks appeared in the case almost immediately after the pair were arrested.

"This was not a game," Buganza said. "This was orchestrated, and was an act of irresponsibility."

The suspects' supporters, meanwhile, called the plan "inconceivable." They said Martinez and Bravo would not comply with the Veracruz proposal and instead would wait for a federal judge hear their request for release on Sept. 23. A group of activists attempted on Monday to visit the suspects in prison but were rebuffed by authorities.

"It's an aberration of the law," Jesus R. Robles, a human rights activist in Mexico City, said Tuesday. "You can't have a crime without a law existing against it. You can't have laws that prosecute people retroactively."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Supporters of the so-called Twitter Terrorists gather Monday outside the state prison in Veracruz where they are being held. Credit: Cuartoscuro via CNN Mexico

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