Software Developer Arrested for His WikiLeaks Association
“I’m confident it will be obvious that there’s no substance to this case, and that it will collapse into nothing.”
On April 11 Ecuadorian authorities arrested the Swedish cryptographer and privacy advocate Ola Bini in the Mariscal Sucre International Airport as he boarded a plane to Japan. He was charged with spying and trying to destabilize the government of Ecuador, and the police put him in preventative custody for 90 days in el Inca Detention Center at Quito.
The arrest of the free software developer came hours after the British police forcefully removed Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, from the Ecuador embassy in London where he sought refuge in 2012.
Voices from all over the world have called since then for the immediate release of Ola Bini, considering his arrest an assault on knowledge and privacy activists.
The Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno said that Bini was one of many hackers who visited Assange at the country’s embassy in London, “Probably to receive instructions.” He stated that Bini hacked cellphones and online accounts belonging to both private citizens and Ecuador’s government.
In addition, Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo assured in a statement published in Telesurtv.net that Bini was a key member of WikiLeaks, and that he was collaborating with intentions of destabilizing the Ecuadorian government.
“He doesn’t have a complete membership in the WikiLeaks organization; what we have is that he is Assange’s friend; that’s why it’s linked with this case, which we really see as a political one,” Romo said.
As proof the attorney general of Ecuador presented photos of hard disks, USBs, computers and electronics they found when they searched Bini’s house. In response to that many web and software developers tweeted back photos of their own electronic devices and boxes saying that this doesn’t make them criminals such as Vadim Adeev who posted on his Twitter account pictures of electronic devices in support of Ola.
The attorney general said also that Bini spent more than $230,000 in internet services over the past five years and traveled often. The former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tweeted, saying it seems like a joke to jail a young foreigner for spending on the internet. “What an image we’re giving to the world,” he said.
On April 16, Ola’s parents Dag Gustafsson (father), Görel Bini (mother) and lawyer held a press conference in Quito where they denounced violations their son suffered; they expressed in a communiqué they are here to see Ola and hug him. They asked Ecuadorian authorities to free him because they know he is innocent.
His lawyer indicated that the detention of Bini was completely illegal, “it was out of the protocols established by the constitution,” he added.
Following the press conference, his parents went to see him in el Inca Detention Center where he is being held. They said that Ola had received threats there and that he fears for his safety.
Bini and Privacy Advocates
Ola Bini introduces himself on his website as a software developer, working with privacy, security and cryptography issues. He works for Centro de Autonomia Digital, which is a non-profit organization based in Quito, Ecuador, that works in the area of digital sovereignty and cyber-security.
The 37-year-old-developer moved to Ecuador in 2013 when he first worked as a consultant for Thoughtworks, a technology company based in Chicago.
Romo said that Bini visited Assange dozens of times. Vijay Prashad, an Indian historian and Marxist intellectual, who is a friend of Ola said in a letter that claiming he is a part of WikiLeaks is a vague statement. He pointed out that many well-known celebrities and intellectuals have visited Assange too, and that both Bini and Assange shared an interest in privacy, security and free software.
Prashad highlighted in his letter to Bini the recent releases of President Moreno photos that showed him in uncomfortable circumstances. He questioned whether the accusations of corruption the president has faced or even his close U.S. ties have motivated him to end Assange’s asylum and arrest Bini.
The arrest of the young software developer stirred many critics and several organizations to support Ola’s case. The tech community such as Chaos Computer Club, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Centro de Mídia Independente (Brazil) Democratic Alliance for Knowledge Freedom, Free Software Foundation Tamil Nadu, Free Software Movement of India, Free Software Movement Karnataka, Primavera Hacker, Coletivo Sarava and the Tor Project have signed a letter to denounced Bini’s detention and criminalization of digital privacy and web developing.
The Centro de Autonomia Digital where Ola works has published an announcement on its website presenting his work areas and refusing to criminalize privacy advocates.
From his arbitrary detention Bini made a statement in which he thanked all the supporters and emphasized the idea of defending privacy. He said that surveillance is a threat to all and that is the reason why he dedicated his life to defend the right of privacy. “The leaders of the world are waging a war against knowledge …we can’t let this happen.”