Twitter ye not | Press release me, let me go | 6 Sep 2011 | Amnesty International UK

Twitter ye not

It is the stuff of nightmares. Learning that local schools are getting attacked by armed gangs. Entirely predictably, after news broke that children were being killed in their classrooms, parents in Veracruz in south-east Mexico jumped into their cars and hurtled off to collect their children. There were more than 25 car accidents reported. 

However there were no gunmen running rampage in local schools. Time to celebrate? Not yet. A school teacher and a radio presenter who spread information about the attack on twitter and facebook are being charged with Terrorism and Sabotage. They could face 30 years in jail. 

Dubbed the twitter terrorists the two accused, maintain that they were simply repeating, or re-tweeting information that they had come across from other users. They are claiming that far from spreading malicious lies designed to cause panic and mayhem they had believed the information to be true, and were merely passing it on. 

Amnesty has long been concerned about the violent armed-gang culture that is prevalent in so many of Mexicos towns and cities. It is because reliable information, disseminated by the authorities, is so scarce, that people turn to social media for breaking news.  Indeed journalists are some of the people most often targeted and intimidated by the gangs, meaning that news coverage is even further undermined. Since 2007, there have been more than 40,000 killings in Mexico as organised crime has spiralled out of control. In this culture of fear- it is easy for people to become hysterical when rumours surface, as they do not feel safe and protected and do not trust that they are being kept informed. 

Undoubtedly the passing on of this information caused panic, but that panic must not be allowed to cloud the reaction to the deeds of Gilberto Martinez Vera and Maria de Jesus Bravo. There is criminality to be addressed in Mexico, but three decades for 140 characters seems extreme in the least and starting with a rumour on twitter seems to be missing the woods for the trees. As the Guardian suggests, you would do as well to haul Orson Welles into the dock. 

Take action, by writing to the Governor of Veracruz state.

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