Two people jailed in Mexico's Veracruz state and charged with terrorism because of a series of alarmist tweets were freed Wednesday. Authorities dropped the charges, and the pair walked out of prison to cheering supporters.
"Thank God that freedom of expression won," Maria de Jesus Bravo, a local journalist and radio commentator, said to the crowd (link in Spanish). She and Gilberto Martinez Vera, a math teacher, spent nearly four weeks in jail after they sent out Twitter messages about a supposed attack on a primary school by drug gangs.
Authorities contended their messages sowed panic among frantic parents. The pair was arrested and charged with terrorism and sabotage, crimes that carried a penalty of up to 30 years in jail.
The case outraged human rights and free-speech advocates and cast a spotlight on Mexicans' increasing reliance on social media networks for information about violence in their hometowns -- and its potential for abuse. With traditional journalists and other sources of information often silenced by intimidation or bribes, microblogging sites sometimes fill the void. But they also often spread false rumor.
The lawyer for Martinez and Bravo, Fidel Ordonez, confirmed the decision of state authorities to drop all charges.
"We hope that this case serves as a watershed in opening the debate, in political, social and academic circles, over the reach of the right to free expression in current times, and with the technological tools that modernity offers," the lawyer said in a statement provided to La Plaza.
The case became something of an embarrassment for Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte. On Tuesday, he pushed through a new law that would allow prosecution of rumormongers on the lesser charge of disturbing the peace. This seemed to open the door to releasing Bravo and Martinez.
Early Wednesday, Duarte, dealing with a new crisis of 35 slain men and women dumped in Veracruz city, announced that the charges against the two tweeters would be dropped. Although there was the chance that they might face prosecution under the new law, Veracruz Interior Secretary Gerardo Buganza said that would not be the case.
--Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City
Photo: Maria de Jesus Bravo and Gilberto Martinez walk to freedom. Credit: EFE.