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Venezuela: Two people arrested for tweeting about banking rumors

After menacing twitter users for their online activities a couple weeks ago, last thursday two persons were arrested, accused of spreading false rumors about the banking system. Those arrested were identified as Luis Acosta Oxford (41), and Carmen Cecilia Nares Castro (35).

Wilmer Flores Trosel, head of the national investigative police unit, declared that there were seized two hard drives, two portable information devices and a cell phone. He also stated that this arrests were the result of a four-month investigation in order to find responsibles to the rumors regarding the national banking system.

These arrests were made under Article 448 of the General Banking Law, which states:

Artículo 448.Las personas naturales o jurídicas que difundan noticias falsas o empleen otros medios fraudulentos capaces de causar distorsiones al sistema bancario nacional que afecten las condiciones económicas del país, serán penados con prisión de nueve (9) a once (11) años.

Art. 448. Any natural or juridical person who spreads fake news or uses other fraudulent methods capable of causing distortions to the national bank system which affect the economic conditions of the country,will be punished with prison, from 9 to 11 years.

However, by the time of the arrest, Acosta Oxford (@leaoxford) had only 32 followers on Twitter, and Nares Castro doesn't appear to even have an account in the microblogging site. This tweet from @leaoxford's timeline has been identified as the one which send him to jail:

@leaoxford's tweet

Gentlemen, don't say you were not told, withdraw [your money] today from BANESCO, there are few days, you were told”.

It remains unclear how two users with so little influence could be responsible of affecting the economic conditions of the country. Blogger Arnaldo Espinoza made an analysis of the possible influence of Acosta Oxford's tweet, in Código Venezuela (ES), stating that:

“(…) la detención de Acosta Oxford es un caso típico de amedrentamiento hacia una comunidad que crece exponencialmente y donde existe plena libertad para expresar ideas, pensamientos u opiniones -tampoco es que el tweet se diferencia mucho de otras cosas que se escuchan en esta red social, desde “ollas podridas del gobierno” hasta silencios comprados-. Los 32 followers de Acosta Oxford seguro estarán extrañados por su desaparición. Lo que al resto de la comunidad tuitera preocupa es que existe un constante monitoreo sobre lo que dicen o hacen todos, para pescar al siguiente chivo expiatorio.”

“Acosta Oxford's arrest is a classic case of intimidation into a community that is growing exponentially and where there is full freedom to express ideas, thoughts or opinions -the tweet is not much different from other things that are heard in this social network, from “government's rotten pots” to bought silence.(…) What concerns the rest of the twitter community, is that there is constant monitoring of what they all say or do, in order to catch the next scapegoat”

However, detained face a sentence of nine to eleven years of emprisonment, and the usual climate of anxiety seems to have spread to the Internet.

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