Venezuela: ‘Destabilizing’ Twitter User Ortega Released

Hugo Chavez Frias. Photo from anticapitalistes.net. (CC BY-SA-NC 2.5 ES)

Hugo Chavez Frias. Photo from anticapitalistes.net. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 ES)

UPDATE: Lourdes Alicia Ortega Perez, the Venezuelan woman who was arrested last week after mocking Hugo Chavez on Twitter, was released from police custody on March 16. Ortega was taken to court on charges of spreading false information and committing fraud. She has since been granted her freedom [es], but will be required to appear before the court every 30 days.

It is likely that Venezuelan authorities were responding to political dissent and criticism with particularly high sensitivity in the days following Chavez's death on March 5. Ortega, who tweets under the handle @ulilou, sent the offending tweet on March 9, in response to user @douglirodil who asked (perhaps in jest) if the president had died. She tweeted:

@douglirodil no se pero convertido en muñeco de cera está

— Lourdes Ortega P. (@ulilou) March 9, 2013

@douglirodil I don't know but he has turned into a wax doll

Last week, Global Voices Advocacy covered Ortega's detention and pointed to a flurry of activity on Twitter, where many users rejected the notion that a tweet of this nature could be seen as “destabilizing” for the country.

Whether this requirement will expire in the future, or Ortega will have to make monthly court appearances indefinitely, remains unclear. A legal expert told Global Voices Advocacy that courts have issued the same decision in previous cases involving “rumors” circulated on social media.

Human rights advocates commonly agree that the universal human right to freedom of expression can only be upheld when individuals are free to exercise this right “without fear of retribution.” Although Ortega will technically be able to continue expressing her opinions freely online, the court's requirement indicates that her online behavior will be watched closely, a measure that will likely leave her with at least some fear of future punishment.

Ortega's account remains active on Twitter, but she has not tweeted since March 12, before her detention.

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