Mexico to lessen terrorism charge in Twitter case

September 20, 2011 - 5:50 PM

VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) — Lawmakers in Veracruz state approved a law Tuesday designed to lessen terrorism charges filed against a man and a woman for allegedly causing a panic by tweeting rumors of drug cartel shootouts.

The law would create a new charge of disturbing the peace, allowing prosecutors to revise the indictments against Gilberto Martinez and Maria de Jesus Bravo.

A judge charged them last month with terrorism and sabotage after tweeted reports of violence and kidnapping threats caused panic in Veracruz city.

Gov. Javier Duarte proposed the change earlier this month, citing pressure over the tweeting case from the Roman Catholic Church and civic groups.

If convicted under the current charges, the pair would face prison sentences of between three and 30 years for terrorism and sabotage. The new disturbing the peace charge carries a sentence of one to four years.

Duarte hasn't set a date for signing the legislation into law.

When enacted, people who falsely claim through any medium the existence of explosive material, shootings or other kinds of attacks that spread fear could face charges.

Defense attorney Claribel Guevara, who represents the pair, said Tuesday that they don't want to accept the lesser charge. They contend the government is violating their freedom of speech.

The creation of the new charge sparked a flurry of tweets about the case Tuesday.

Hermann Ortega, a member of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's National Action Party, criticized the law on his Twitter account, saying local governments are "restricting freedom of expression."