Moldovar 'Twitter revolution' activist under house arrest

By staff writers
April 17, 2009

Natalia Morar, who helped to organise what is being described as Moldova's "Twitter revolution," a 20,000-strong flash protest which stormed the country's parliament building on 7 April 2009, has been placed under house arrest by the authorities.

Mass street protests followed the announcement that Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's ruling Communist Party had won more than half the votes in the 5 April parliamentary elections, a result that would allow it unilaterally to pick a president to succeed Voronin as well as appointing a prime minister.

The government has now announced a recount but opposition parties remain sceptical about its intentions.

The protests were galvanised by SMS texting and web-based social networking tools, including Twitter - even after the government had shut down the mobile phone networks in an attempt to stop mobilisation.

Morar's lawyer, Natalia Molosag, told Radio Free Europe on 16 April that her client could be charged with “inciting mass disorder" for her role in the demonstration, during which the parliamentary building and the offices of the president were ransacked and nearly 200 protestors were arrested.

Activists deny the authorities' allegation that the violence was the result of social networking. They say it arose when people were already outside the parliament building and that the police used violence too.

Natlia Morar, an investigative journalist and activist who works with 'New Times' in Russia, stresses that her role in the protest was nonviolent.

Her lawyer says she is "worried" about the charges of "extreme violence, pogroms, in which she definitely did not take part." The charge carries a sentence of eight to 15 years imprisonment.

Amid rumours of mass arrests of protesters and allegations that authorities had tortured some of those arrested, Morar announced on her blog on 9 April that "information about my arrest was false. I'm all right", says RFE.

But Molosag says she doubts that the promise of the Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin to free the detained demonstrators would help Morar. On 15 April, Morar's husband Ilya Barabanov used her blog to tell friends that his wife was safe but is afraid to contact anyone outside her immediate family.

The monitoring site DigiActive says that there is a need for more careful analysis of the role of Twitter in the Moldovan events. "While Twitter had a part in the pre-protest mobilization in and around Chisinau on Monday night, it may not have necessarily turned the protests into mobs or rioters, nor did it necessarily invoke the violence that occurred on Tuesday, as some believe."

Evegeny Morozov, a fellow at the Open Society Institute, points out that Twitter’s more important role was getting the information out to the world, bringing it international attention and keeping the story alive and buzzing, as well as acting as a channel to push out user-generated content from on the ground.

DigiActive says: "After some great immediate analysis of the Twitter scene in Moldova ...Morozov found that there were actually very few registered Twitter users in the country and he suspects that most of the Tweets were not on the ground [but] elsewhere in the world, taking information and pushing it along.

It adds: "Aside from the fact that the government of Moldova quickly shut down cell phone service for the square where the riots took place, it seems there is limited use for Twitter in terms of mobilization efforts once you already have people in the square. The violence was somewhat self-contained and more of a product of human beings being human beings than a technologically enhanced provocation. As you might predict, the use of a megaphone became more useful than using Twitter."

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