Five years after his arrest, the trial of digital security activist Ola Bini resumes in Ecuador this Tuesday (31). If convicted, he could face up to 5 years behind bars in a process marred by questions from human rights organizations.
For three years in a row, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed concern over the case. In its latest report, the IACHR highlights that “considers the persistent delays and other alleged violations of due process in the investigation against the activist computer scientist Ola Bini”.
A friend of Julian Assange, Bini was arrested in April 2019, just hours after the WikiLeaks journalist was also arrested in the United Kingdom. The then president of Ecuador, Lenín Moreno, even claimed at the time, without evidence, that Bini might have tried to interfere in the US elections.
Moreno was also responsible for revoking Assange’s asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which paved the way for the journalist’s arrest in the British capital and, consequently, his possible extradition to the US.
In June 2022, then UK Home Secretary Priti Patel authorized Assange’s extradition to the US, where he faces up to 175 years in prison. The defense appeals and tries to reverse the decision.
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In 2019, Bini was detained for 70 days before being released to respond to the process in freedom by decision of a habeas corpus. Since then, he has not been able to leave Ecuador and his defense claims that he is followed and photographed by state agents, including drones.
The Ecuadorian prosecutor’s office accuses the activist, using an internet privacy argument, of “non-consensual access to a computer system”. One of the alleged proofs of the prosecution is that Bini used Tor, a browser that protects the user’s identity and is commonly used by human rights defenders and journalists.
Organizations linked to the defense of the Swedish activist refute the argument. “The Public Ministry – through its arguments at the hearing – criminalizes the fact of hiding an IP address through the Tor browser, without having proven the commission of any computer crime, that is, it presumes that this type of activity is suspicious and, therefore, should be framed in criminal law”, says Ronnie Torres, from the Regional Foundation for Advice on Human Rights, in a press release. “It is very worrying that the Public Ministry takes this evidence as one of its strongest arguments to affirm that Ola Bini committed the crime, without taking into account the right to computer privacy, and in addition to criminalizing Ola Bini simply for being a browser user. Tor”.
The new phase of the trial this week is expected to see the defense present its closing arguments, a briefing by Bini and closing arguments from all parties. The expectation is that the trial will be suspended again before the communication of the judiciary’s decision.
Editing: Arturo Hartmann