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Prosecution and violence against Twitter users must stop, says ARTICLE 19

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 21 September 2011 - Freedom of the press in Mexico has dangerously deteriorated over the past year, with regular reports of journalists being killed, often without proper investigations being conducted into their deaths. This climate of fear and distrust of the authorities has led many Mexican citizens to become increasingly reliant on social media as a source of news. Hashtags have become an important sorting mechanism, and are even considered to be ad hoc news services.

However, this newsgathering medium came under an intense international media spotlight when on, 25 August 2011, two social media users, Maria de Jesus Bravo Pagola and Gilberto Martinez Vera, were arrested and charged with terrorism for – what appears to have been – disseminating false information on their Twitter accounts.

ARTICLE 19 finds these charges to be in clear breach of international law standards on the protection of freedom of expression. ARTICLE 19 is also alarmed at the report that, on 15 September 2011, two mutilated bodies were found in Nuevo Laredo, with a note threatening reprisals for users of specific social media websites - indicating that social media users are now being targeted by organized crime.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the law enforcement authorities in Veracruz to immediately drop all charges against Ms Bravo Pagola and Mr Martinez Vera. ARTICLE 19 also calls on the Mexican Government to promptly investigate the killings in Nuevo Laredo and to adopt the complex measures needed to protect journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and cyber-activists so that they can work in a free and safe environment.

Social media in Mexico

ARTICLE 19 has repeatedly expressed concern about the impact of the ongoing drug cartel-related violence on freedom of expression in Mexico in recent years, such as the silencing of the press and in particular of local media. Some people even talk about the emergence of "narco-censorship", with criminal organizations threatening local newspapers with reprisals for reporting on drug-related crimes and other violent events. Journalists and publishers who cover drug wars are frequently killed and harassed, and even the largest media houses frequently report incidents of serious threats and violent attacks against them because of their reporting.

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