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The Mexican government ordered academics at a state-funded research institute to refrain from posting or sharing criticism of their bosses on social media or via email, a move that researchers said amounted to a gagging order, the Associated Press reported.

The new rule is aimed at researchers and workers of the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE). The order specifically says that CIDE academics should not send any messages or comments electronically that “could damage the dignity or integrity of public officials.”

Critics and researchers lamented that the order aims to silence them. However, the government countered that the move does not seek to limit freedom of expression but to “guarantee that right.”

CIDE has been a focal point of resistance to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s attempts to make academic institutions more nationalistic, state-oriented and pro-government.

This is not the first time López Obrador has clashed with academics.

In April, he signed a law that ordered the country’s science and technology commission – which provides research grants and other funding – to include Army and Navy representatives on its board.

Two years ago, the government’s science board issued an order prohibiting researchers from openly criticizing the organization, adding that any public statements must be approved by the board’s press office.

Previously, the council assisted prosecutors in their attempt to imprison 31 academics in a maximum-security facility. These academics were accused of violating a law prohibiting them from receiving and spending research funds – even though it was within their legal rights to do so at that time.

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