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Twitter users formally charged, banned from posting messages

(RSF/IFEX) - Two Twitter users who were arrested on 8 July 2010, Luis Enrique Acosta and Carmen Cecilia Nares, appeared on 12 July before a court in the southeastern city of Ciudad Bolívar and were formally charged under article 448 of the 2001 banking law with "spreading false news" with the aim of destabilising the banking system and damaging the economy.

If convicted, they face sentences of 9 to 11 years in prison - utterly disproportionate punishments for two people whose only offence was to express their views online.

Acosta, whose Twitter username is @leaoxford, had 225 "followers" as of 12 July and had posted a total of 201 "Tweets" while Nares, whose username is @carmennares, had only six followers and appeared to have posted no "Tweets" at all. Their clearly limited online presence belies the government's attempts to portray them as two individuals bent on undermining the national banking system.

The court agreed on 12 July to their conditional release pending trial but ordered them to report to court officials every two weeks and banned them from posting this type of online message under article 256 of the criminal code. Reporters Without Borders calls for the immediate withdrawal of the charges.

Meanwhile, judicial harassment of the Noticiero Digital news website is continuing. Members of its staff were summoned before the prosecutor general's office in Caracas on 12 July in connection with the proceedings initiated against the site on 8 June on suspicion of "attacking constitutional order" and "supporting a coup d'état."

The proceedings were prompted by an opinion piece posted on the website on 2 June by Roberto Carlos Olivares that talked of moves by "retired military officers and patriots" with a view to engineering a "civil-military transition," possibly in 2011. The site's editor, Juan Eduardo Smith, was already questioned on 11 June.

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