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08/31/2011

Meet Mexico's 'Twitter terrorists'

Bet you thought you couldn’t go to jail for sending tweets in Mexico. Wrong! A prosecutor in the state of Veracruz has imprisoned two people for tweets they posted last week.

If it sounds hard to believe, there is more. The two citizens, Gilberto Martínez Vera (@gilius_22) and María de Jesús Bravo Pagola (@maruchibravo) face up to 30-year jail terms for “terrorism and sabotage.”

The prosecutor accused the two of sowing panic last week in the district of Boca del Rio, which is part of the port of Veracruz, by suggesting in tweets that gangsters were attacking public schools in the district and killing kids.

There is little doubt that the tweets were alarmist and, by most accounts, false. 

One said: “presumed street vendors gunned down six children between the ages of 13 and 15 en Hidalgo Col.” Another said: “i confirm that in the ‘Jorge Arroyo’ Sch. In Carranza Col. an armed group has taken 5 children. Total psychosis in the zone.” A later tweet said the school was actually named Alfonso Arroyo.

Word of the tweets panicked parents who flocked to pull their kids from school.

But the context goes some way in explaining the case. Veracruz, like many parts of Mexico, is reeling from gunfights, bombings, extortion and beheadings by crime gangs. Journalists are a particular target. Three have been found dead since early June. Click here to see a detailed story I did about two of the cases.

Many Mexicans there feel conventional media no longer provide quick, reliable information because gangsters have terrorized or co-opted journalists. So citizens have turned to social networks. Twitter is full of Mexicans tweeting about the security situation in their cities. Government and law enforcement have gotten into the picture, too. Click here for a story about use of social media by individuals and police across Mexico.

Attacks on schools are not unheard of. A few weeks ago, a commando of gangsters entered a school in Acapulco and took a 15-year-old kid, according to El Universal. His mutilated body turned up later. More recently, a gangster demand that Acapulco teachers turn over half their salaries has shut some 140 schools in the city. Many have yet to start the school year.

In Veracruz state, the two Mexican tweeters have been dubbed “Twitter terrorists,” and are in jail in Coatepec. News reports say prosecutors are investigating 15 other Twitter users in Veracruz for possible charges.

The arrests have spawned a reaction in cybersphere. One user, @giseleando, directed a tweet earlier today to Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte: “to tweet is not a crime, it’s the plain and legitimate exercise of freedom of expression. freedom for @gilius_22 @maruchibravo”

Item: I occasionally put links in blog posts to sources in Spanish. This, certainly, may be irksome to those who don't read Spanish. But I think the need to provide links to those who want more information outweighs the possible annoyance. Let me know if you disagree.

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sean hanny

no need to apologize for the links in Spanish, Tim....if they are irked pues se pueden ir a ver que puso la marana

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Tim

This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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