A Mexican judge charged a man and a woman with terrorism and sabotage Wednesday for allegedly tweeting rumors of purported shootouts and other drug violence that caused a panic in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.
Gilberto Martinez and Maria de Jesus Bravo will stand trial, Veracruz state Interior Secretary Gerardo Buganza said. A third suspect who had been detained was not charged Wednesday.
Prosecutors said the tweeted rumors of attacks by the Zetas drug cartel sparked chaos last week as parents rushed to schools looking for their children in the state's biggest city, also known as Veracruz.
The tweets warned of attacks on banks and schools, saying that "for each Zeta killed a child will die."
The state's penal code establishes prison terms of three to 30 years for terrorism convictions.
Veracruz state law defines terrorism as using violence or "any other means to carry out attacks on persons, things or public services, in such a way that creates alarm, fear or terror in the public."
The Mexican government's action echoes what happened in Britain's recent riots, with officials there looking into the role that social networks played in enabling flash mobs and looting to be coordinated.
In Mexico, the charges against the pair have been criticized by free speech advocates.
It "is the last attempt to restrict freedom of expression in Veracruz," said Dario Ramirez of a nonprofit group in Mexico that defends Mexicans' constitutional right to free speech.
Buganza disputed that view. He said the state is not censoring, but rather sanctioning Web users who upset social order.
Residents of Veracruz have experienced a spike in drug violence from an intensifying turf war between the Gulf and Zetas drug cartels over the region.
In Mexico as a whole, more than 35,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon deployed thousands of soldiers to cartel hot spots across the country to crack down on organized crime. Others put the death toll at 40,000.
A survey released Wednesday said 83 percent of Mexicans still endorse the use of Mexican troops to help fight drug trafficking organizations.
The Pew Research Center said the survey was based on face-to-face interviews with 800 Mexican adults from March 22 to April 7. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Although 54 percent of those polled said the government is either losing ground to the cartels or things haven't changed since the drug war began, a nearly equal percentage expressed a favorable opinion of Calderon.