Monday, July 12, 2010

Two Venezuelans Face Up To 11 Years In Prison For Twittering

Via The Firewall Blog ( -

Hugo Chavez seems to like Twitter as a mouthpiece for power. Since joining the service last April, he's sent 522 messages, sometimes dozens a day, all apparently from his BlackBerry.

But he's not such a fan of uncensored microblogging from the masses. Last week two Venezuelans, a 35-year old woman and a 41-year old man, were charged with making statements on Twitter critical of Venezuela's banking system and face up to 11 years in prison,
according to Reporters Without Borders. Fifteen more Internet users may face similar charges in the coming days.

The two defendants are accused of violating a 2001 law prohibiting spreading false rumors about or attempting to destabilize the nation's banks, a loaded topic in the midst of
wider financial troubles in the country. “Ladies and Gentlemen, don’t say you weren’t warned... Pull out today... I’m telling you, there are just a few days left," Luis Acosta Oxford wrote late last month, for instance.

But the threat of a decade of imprisonment for 140 characters of investment advice goes beyond any financial fears, says Lucie Morillon, head of the Internet desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF). "We see this arrest and the fact that these individuals face 11 years in jail as not just an unfortunate incident, but a way to intimidate other users who would use Twitter as a platform to criticize the government and its decisions"


Twitter and other microblogging services are facing a crackdown worldwide, as net-repressive governments have seen the tools used for dissent or political discussion. Iran and China have long blocked the service and its clones, and Saudi Arabia recently banned the microblogging accounts of two activists in the country, according to RSF.

But the censorship is especially ironic given Chavez's own newfound love of twittering and using the Internet in general as a political platform, says Morillon. "We’d like to see him let others exercise the same freedoms he has," she says.

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