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Relatives in the funeral procession for lynching victims. Relatives in the funeral procession for lynching victims.

Fake social media messages create fear that feeds lynch mobs

There is no evidence indicating that this week's four victims were guilty

Rumors fanned by social media had fatal consequences in two Mexican states this week.

Four apparently innocent people were beaten and burned alive in two separate incidents in Puebla and Hidalgo after residents accused them of being child snatchers.

Behind both lynchings was hysteria whipped up by fake messages circulating on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and the messaging service WhatsApp, which supposedly served to alert citizens in several states that a wave of kidnappings was taking place.

The gist of many messages was “don’t leave your kids alone, there’s a band of child snatchers within our midst.”

Some messages claimed that children are being abducted by organ-trafficking rings while others called for vigilante justice for anyone believed guilty of the crime.

That’s exactly what happened in San Vicente Boquerón, Puebla, and Santa Ana Ahuehuepan, Hidalgo, on consecutive days this week.

First an uncle and his nephew were killed by an angry mob in the first town Wednesday before history quickly repeated itself when a man and a woman were lynched in the same way in the latter location Thursday.

In both cases, the Puebla and Hidalgo prosecutor’s offices said that there was no evidence that the victims had committed the crime of which they were accused.

Both authorities also issued statements declaring that claims that child abduction rings were operating in each state are false, and urged citizens not to spread such information.

“There is no record of child abductions to date,” authorities in Puebla said, adding that there is a national “misinformation phenomenon” occurring.

“Do not be alarmed, inform yourself!” their counterparts in Hidalgo said.

'Horde of savages:' lynch mob records video of the event.
‘Horde of savages:’ lynch mob records video of the event.

Authorities in other states where the same falsehoods have flourished — Yucatán, Durango, Jalisco and Sinaloa — have issued similar statements of their own.

“. . . The [Yucatán] state Attorney General’s office calls on the public not to spread or share information of dubious origin disseminated via these means [social media], whose objective is to undermine the peace and quiet and [sense of] security of Yucatán residents.”

In Hidalgo, Interior Secretary Simón Vargas Aguilar said that once those responsible for the lynching have been identified and arrested, they will face prosecution with the full weight of the law in order to “preserve the rule of law, governability and peace in the state.”

In Puebla, a joint funeral service for the two deceased men — punctuated by cries of “we want justice” from the parents of the younger man — has already been held.

The mother of 21-year-old Ricardo Flores Rodríguez, who was a farmworker and a law student at a university in Veracruz, blamed the mayor of Acatlán de Osorio, presumably because the two men were taken by force from municipal police before they were tied up, doused with gasoline and set on fire.

“I want the head of the mayor because he is responsible for the death of my son and my brother-in-law,” Rosario Rodríguez said. “Why did they kill them? Why did they [local authorities] let them?”

The young man’s father and brother of the older man said a little girl had lost her dad through an act of barbarism.

The president of the National Human Rights Commission used the same word when he spoke out about the case this week.

Raúl González Pérez said the acts of mob justice must be punished but also recognized shortcomings in Mexico’s justice and legal systems that result in high levels of impunity.

“We reproach and condemn [the serving of] justice by one’s own hands. We cannot prosecute presumably illegal behavior . . . by seeking to serve justice with our own hands. We have to recognize that there is an institutional weakness in the procurement of justice but that must not be substituted by . . . justice by one’s own hands,” he said.

The governor said today that two people are now in custody in connection with the incident and that more arrests would follow. He criticized municipal police for not following protocols and allowing “a horde of savages” to commit “an atrocious crime.”

Source: Diario de Yucatán (sp)

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