Two Twitter users who were arrested on 8 July, Luis Enrique Acosta and Carmen Cecilia Nares, appeared yesterday 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 yesterday 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 yesterday 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.