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Ola Bini, Privacy Activist and Julian Assange Friend, Speaks Out After Release from Ecuadorian Jail

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Last week, an Ecuadorian judge ordered the release of Swedish programmer and data privacy activist Ola Bini, who spent more than two months in jail without charge. Bini is a friend of WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange. He was arrested in Quito on the same day that Assange was forcibly taken by British authorities from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. We speak with Ola Bini in Quito, where he remains under investigation for allegedly hacking the Ecuadorian government. He says, “Through the whole process, 70 days in prison, and all of the days since, we’ve been asking the prosecution to tell us what it is I have done. And they still have not actually given us any single answer.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We end today’s show in Quito, Ecuador, where we’re joined by Ola Bini, a Swedish programmer and data privacy activist, who was recently freed after spending more than two months in an Ecuadorian jail without charge. Ola Bini is a friend of WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange. He was arrested in Quito April 11th, the same day Assange was forcibly taken by British authorities from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to the Belmarsh Prison, where he is incarcerated today. On Thursday, Ola Bini briefly spoke to reporters after a judge ordered his release.

OLA BINI: We have proven my innocence for the first time, and we will continue to prove my innocence. I want to thank the judges for showing what we’ve been saying the whole time, that this process has been illegal and that I was illegally detained.

AMY GOODMAN: Ola Bini has lived in Ecuador for five years, where he’s worked at the Quito-based Center for Digital Autonomy. During that time, he also traveled to London to meet with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

This all comes as Ecuador’s right-wing President Lenín Moreno is facing a corruption probe after the leak of internal documents exposed he had secretly set up multiple offshore bank accounts. Moreno has accused WikiLeaks of being involved in the leak. Ola Bini has been accused of hacking the Ecuadorian government, but no charges have been filed against him. He remains under investigation, has been barred from leaving Ecuador.

The United States has also expressed interest in Bini’s case. The Associated Press reported earlier this month the U.S. Justice Department has received permission from Ecuadorian authorities to question him.

Ola Bini joins us now from Quito, Ecuador.

Ola, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about your release and what you—I was going to say “are being charged with,” but you haven’t been charged. Why were you arrested?

OLA BINI: Hello, Amy. It’s great to be here again, and it’s great to hear you. Why was I arrested? That’s a very, very good question. We don’t know. We’re still trying to get an answer to this. In fact, through the whole process, 70 days in prison and all the days since, we have been asking the prosecution to tell us what it is I have done, and they still haven’t actually given us any single answer. So, getting released, getting a tribunal, getting a tribunal telling us that they accepted our habeas corpus, that my detention and arrest was illegal, has been a very, very good victory for us, showing what we have been saying from the beginning, that this process has simply not been regularly done. And we are still waiting to understand what it is I’m supposed to have done.

AMY GOODMAN: You were arrested just after Julian Assange was taken forcibly out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. So I assume you had seen those images. Is that right?

OLA BINI: Yes, that’s correct. I woke up on the early morning on Thursday, April 11th, and I received the news about what happened to Julian. And then, a few hours later, I went to the airport, because I had a previously planned trip to Japan, and I was planning on leaving, purely on coincidence the same day. And when I went to the gate, when I came to the gate, I was detained by people who said they were police officers, but not providing any identification.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you believe your arrest is connected to Julian Assange?

OLA BINI: At this point, I have no idea why it happened the same day. The prosecution has tried to introduce Julian Assange as a component of the case he’s trying to make against me, but no strict connections have been made so far. So, we don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: Did they take all of your equipment, your electronic equipment? Did they take your phone, your computer?


AMY GOODMAN: And what do you understand has happened to it?

OLA BINI: Yes, they took all of my equipment. Oh, so, they took all of my equipment that I had with me when I was at the airport. And later, during the night, they actually took me to the outside of my apartment. They told me they had an order to enter my apartment, but they never showed the order to enter my apartment. Then they asked if I was willing to help them come in, and voluntarily help them. I said I needed my lawyer to do that. And they denied—they ignored that request and entered without my permission. And as far as I know, all of my technical equipment in my apartment has been taken. They have also taken about 14 or 15 books that are primarily about computer science. And this was presented during the first hearing.

In terms of what has happened with it, we have had several hearings at the forensics lab here in Quito, where they have asked me to provide the passwords for my devices. I have refused to provide the passwords, primarily because they still haven’t told me what I’ve done. So, what I’ve told the prosecutor is, once they tell me what I’ve done, when I’ve done it, how I’ve done it, where I’ve done it, I will consider helping them. But until then, we are not going to do that. The last hearing we had, the technical division said that they don’t know how to open my devices, and they were going to ask for international help. And that’s the last official information that we have about this.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Ola Bini, there have been reports that U.S. investigators have been granted permission by Ecuador to question you. Associated Press reports you’re due to be questioned on, what, June 27th. Can you explain what is the role of the United States in your arrest?

OLA BINI: So, first of all, I received the request to interview me on Tuesday in this week. This was a request from the Ecuadorian judiciary. And when you receive that kind of request, you cannot deny it. So, I was planning on presenting myself and going there with my lawyer and see what questions they were going to ask. However, on Friday, we found out that the United States government has actually withdrawn the request. And they are now not interested in asking me any questions anymore, apparently.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I understood that some of Julian Assange’s or all of his equipment, the Ecuadorian government had perhaps given it to the British government, from the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he lived for about seven years. Do you know if your equipment has been handed to the United States?

OLA BINI: As far as I know, it’s still here in Quito. That’s the only legal way. And as far as I know, it wouldn’t be legal for the prosecution to send it anywhere else.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you a member of WikiLeaks? You clearly know Julian Assange. You visited him in the embassy, where he had political asylum by Ecuador under the previous president.

OLA BINI: Julian Assange is only a friend of mine. I have never worked with Julian. I have never worked with WikiLeaks. And I am categorically not a member of WikiLeaks, and I have never been a member of WikiLeaks.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the Ecuadorian government has accused you of, the president, what he has accused you of, why he is so concerned about a document leak?

OLA BINI: Yeah. This is a little bit confusing, because, of course, the prosecution hasn’t accused me of anything. In fact, I’m being investigated under what’s called a delito. And this delito, or a statute, is basically just a category of a type of crime. And this crime is basically that I have in some way adversely impacted the integrity of computer systems. But what that actually means with computer systems that I have impacted in any way, we have no idea. Now, of course, the president has gone on TV and saying that I have done things—

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

OLA BINI: —like breaking into computer systems, breaking into mobile phones and stealing documents. But this is not something that the—

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there, but we’ll do Part 2 and post it online at democracynow.org. Ola Bini, thanks for joining us.

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