Venezuela: Twitter user detained for spreading “destabilizing” information

In the wake of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's death last week, government authorities in Venezuela seem to have resumed taking action against freedom of expression online. On March 14, 2013, Lourdes Alicia Ortega Pérez was detained by the Scientific Penal and Criminal Investigation Corps (CICPC, by its Spanish acronym), for allegedly having “usurped the identity of an official of the Autonomous Service of Registries and Notaries” and having sent Tweets that authorities deemed “destabilizing [to] the country.”

Photo by mkhmarketing, under a CC License (BY-2.0)

Photo by mkhmarketing. (CC BY-2.0)

According to El Nacional [es], Ortega's Twitter username is @Ulilou and she has been registered since June 9th 2009. The newspaper stated that the offending Tweet was sent on March 8, at 8:20 pm, in response to a comment made by user @douglirodil, who asked what had killed President Hugo Chavez. Ortega replied: “I do not know but he has become a wax doll.”

The Interior and Justice Ministry posted a press release [es] on its website indicating that police seized Ortega's personal computer, “in which, through an account on the social network Twitter, [Ortega] sent rumors to influence the [public].”

Various incidents of online censorship have been reported from Venezuela in recent years. In a 2010 case similar to Ortega's, two Twitter users were detained by police for allegedly “spreading false rumors” about the banking system.

In the Venezuelan twittersphere, netizens have started using the hashtag #tuitdesestabilizador (#subversivetweet) for protesting Ortega's detention and, also, to make jokes and comments about the current political situation.

Think. #subversivetweet

There's no water in my house. #subversivetweet

Capriles is hot. #subversivetweet

A tweet can take away your freedom in this democratic country.

People, stop it with the hashtag #subversivetweet because [if] the #CICPC puts us in jail, where are they gonna put so many people?

The Minister of Interior and Justice, Néstor Reverol, declared that they will “preserve peace and tranquility for the stability of the country” and said: “We will be vigilant, we will not allow an inch of destabilization.” According to the state news channel, VTV [es], Reverol also declared that authorities will continue “to monitor the messages of social networks that seek to destabilize the country.”

The Minister also stated that Ortega will be processed under Venezuela's Computer Crimes Act [es]. Ortega may also be vulnerable to 2010 law forbidding all Internet content that “fosters unrest among the citizenship or disturbs public order.”

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