'Twitter terrorists' walk free in Mexico amid crime surge


McClatchy Newspapers

MEXICO CITY — Prosecutors on Wednesday dropped charges against two social media users dubbed the "Twitter terrorists" three weeks after their tweets and Facebook postings enraged authorities in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz.

Dozens of supporters greeted Gilberto Martinez, 46, and Maria de Jesus Bravo, 56, at mid-afternoon as they walked out of the Pacho Viejo prison.

The terrorism and sabotage charges against the two — a math tutor and a grandmother — had brought ridicule on state officials for focusing on their alleged crimes even as violence mounted across the state.

Their release came a day after gangsters dumped 35 corpses on a road in a tourist district in the state's largest city, the port of Veracruz. Many of the corpses were disfigured from torture.

The lawyer for the two, Fidel Ordonez, said his clients were happy to be free but still distraught over their arrests on Aug. 25 and 26.

"They've never understood why they were accused of terrorism and sabotage," Ordonez said.

At the time, Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte said the two provoked "hysteria" on Aug. 25 with tweets and Facebook postings alleging that gangsters were shooting children at schools in the Boca del Rio district. Another official said the postings generated such anxiety that parents rushing to the schools got in more than 26 automobile crashes, an assertion that has never been confirmed.

The state's public security chief, Gerardo Buganza, said a new law that state legislators passed Tuesday on a 33-14 vote sets a prison term of one to four years for those who disturb "public order" by spreading false information, including on the Internet. He called it a significant weapon to use against troublemakers.

"We left it very clear that antisocial conduct will not be accepted in Veracruz," Buganza told the Milenio television network.

Facebook, Twitter and websites have become a major source of information for Mexicans faced with burgeoning violence. But that has angered provincial elected officials, accustomed to controlling conventional media, as well as organized crime bosses, who prefer that the public have limited knowledge of their activities.

Gangsters hung the bodies of a man and woman from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo, across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas, on Sept 13, next to a sign warning, "This will happen to all the Internet snitches." The sign named a blog and a community website where citizens can post information about crime.

The sign carried a large "Z," the calling card of Los Zetas, a brutal transnational crime gang involved in drug smuggling and a gamut of other underworld activity.

Los Zetas are currently battling an armed wing of the Sinaloa Cartel for control of Veracruz, a key hub for trafficking narcotics and undocumented aliens.

Authorities said the 35 corpses dumped Tuesday during the afternoon rush hour appeared to be affiliated with the Zetas.

State Attorney General Reynaldo Escobar said those who'd been identified all had criminal records. Most of the victims were strangled, suffocated or hit with blunt objects, he said.

"They used sadism in the torture of these people," Escobar added.


Mexican politicians declare war on what they see as abuse of Twitter

Violent Mexican drug gang, Zetas, taking control of migrant smuggling

Killings spark questions about journalists' ties to Mexican gangs

Check out this McClatchy blog: Mexico Unmasked

McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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