Citizen journalist arrested for using Twitter

A man faces jail in Guatemala after urging Twitter users to “bankrupt the bank of the corrupt”.

Jean Anleu was so tired with corruption in his country that he decided to vent his feeling with a 96-character message on the site.

The message, or tweet, has now earned him a potential five-year prison sentence.

Writing under his internet alias “jeanfer”, Anleu urged depositors to pull their money from Guatemala’s rural development bank, whose management has been challenged in a political scandal: “First concrete action should be take cash out of Banrural and bankrupt the bank of the corrupt.”

These words illegally undermined public trust in Guatemala’s banking system, according to prosecutor Genaro Pacheco. Authorities proved Anleu sent the message by searching his Guatemala City home, and then put him in prison with kidnappers, extortionists and other dangerous criminals for a day and a half before letting him out on bail.

His lawyer, Jose Toledo, believes the government wants to make an example of him.

“Clearly, the message was: Watch out, any of you guys that want to post messages, this can happen to you. … It was a dissuasive measure,” Toledo said.

Guatemala, whose democracy is still emerging from a genocidal civil war, is not the only government concerned about the potential of lightning-fast tweets to spread stinging words.

More recently, Iran has shown its determination to clamp down on huge protests over its disputed presidential election, banning first-hand reporting by international journalists and blocking access inside the country to websites such as Twitter and Facebook as well as many sites linked to the political opposition. Text messaging has been blacked out and mobile phone service in Tehran is frequently down.

More than 2,000 people have been arrested in Iran, many of them for internet activity, estimates Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

“I can’t say I know of a specific case of tweeting,” he said, noting that Iran’s government has not yet filed charges. “Evidence may be a tweet or something but we’re just not going to know until these trials are under way.”

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone declined to comment on the Anleu case.

Anleu said: “I fear I’m being watched and scrutinised in everything I say and do.

“The fear makes me want to avoid saying what I think, even about the most mundane topics, and saying where I am, where I’m going – like you would normally do on Twitter.”

But if the government hoped to silence criticism, it appears to have had the opposite effect. As news of Anleu’s arrest spread through the Twitter community, thousands of others started “re-tweeting” his message, bringing Guatemala’s government still more unwanted publicity.

About half of his bail was donated by Twitterers, who sent money via PayPal from 19 countries. The rest was lent to him by one of the companies he works for as a business technology consultant.

And Anleu’s social network has grown to more than 1,600 followers, up from about 175 who before his arrest mostly shared tweets about “computers and other geeky stuff,” he said.

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