Rory Carroll

The police in Guatemala have arrested a Twitter user and confiscated his computer for “inciting financial panic” after he urged people to remove funds from a state-owned bank. Jean Anleu Fernandez, 37, was handcuffed, fingerprinted and jailed for posting the 96-character message on the micro-blogging site earlier this week. It is thought to be the first such case in Central America.

The police raided the IT worker’s home in the capital, Guatemala City, on the orders of the public ministry division in charge of banks, according to the local media. The head of the banking system, Genaro Pacheco, said Anleu admitted sending a single message about Banrural, a rural development bank at the centre of a murder mystery which has engulfed the government in a political storm.

Anleu, who on his blog says he loves books and “geek stuff,” sent the message on Tuesday using his online name “jeanfer.” It said: “First concrete action should be remove cash from Banrural and bankrupt the bank of the corrupt.” The message ended with the tag “GBPescandalogt,” an online term for the political scandal. Inciting financial panic is an offence in Guatemala, which like much of Latin America has a history of economic volatility. Anleu is due to be held in jail until payment of a £4,300 fine after which he will be placed under house arrest pending trial.

The detention prompted a backlash from the Twitter community. Anleu’s message has been resent by other Twitters and funds are being collected to pay the fine. The case underlined the government’s nervousness in the wake of last Sunday’s murder of a lawyer, Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano. Before being gunned down, he recorded a video testament saying his death would be at the behest of President Alvaro Colom.

Rosenberg said his life was in danger because Colom and senior officials tried to recruit one of his clients, Khalil Musa, into a corruption scam involving Banrural. Musa was killed in March and the lawyer sensed he was next. The 18-minute video, shown repeatedly on TV, uploaded on YouTube and sold on DVD, has convulsed Guatemala.

There are daily demonstrations and calls for the President to step down. Colom has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and invited the United Nations and the FBI to investigate the affair.

Guatemala, one of Central America’s poorest and most violent countries, remains scarred by a savage civil war which ended in 1996, leaving 200,000 dead and state institutions fragile. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009