- Ola BiniSwedish programmer and data privacy activist.
Web-only conversation with Swedish programmer and data privacy activist Ola Bini following his release from over two months in an Ecuadorian jail. Bini was arrested on the same day that Julian Assange was forcibly taken by British authorities from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Part 2 of our conversation with Ola Bini. He is a computer privacy activist who has lived in Ecuador for five years. On April 11th, he was arrested in Quito, Ecuador, just after Julian Assange was arrested in London. He was held for two months and then recently released, but he is not free to leave Ecuador.
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 and can’t leave Ecuador. The United States has also expressed interest in Ola’s case.
So, Ola Bini, in Part 1 of this discussion, you talked about how you were arrested. Talk about this leak of documents that the president of Ecuador is accusing you of being involved with, though no charges have officially been brought?
OLA BINI: OK. So, this leak, first of all, we have to be careful. The president has never actually accused me of any leak, as far as I know. The prosecution has never accused me of any leak. The only place that has linked me to any kind of leak was on Facebook. So, and the funny part is, of course, I don’t actually know anything about this leak. I’ve never read it. I’ve never seen the pictures that they talk about. So, what the president said on TV has been—
AMY GOODMAN: And when you say Facebook, whose Facebook?
OLA BINI: I don’t know. This was something that came out after I was actually arrested, so I’ve only been told about it by secondhand. And also, of course, I don’t have a Facebook account, so I’ve never seen it myself, even after coming out.
AMY GOODMAN: Continue with what you were saying.
OLA BINI: Yes, sure. So, the president on TV has accused me of breaking into a system, of breaking into mobile phones and of also stealing information. But when we called him to give testimony or give his version of events, he actually claimed that he didn’t know anything about the situation, and he claimed that the information he was relaying came from the minister of the interior, María Paula Romo. But when we asked María Paula Romo and she gave her version, her testimony, she actually claimed that they didn’t have any evidence of me having committed any crimes whatsoever, which is in complete contradiction because on TV she has claimed they do have evidence of me committing a crime.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been held since April 11th. You just got out of jail, upon the—
OLA BINI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —demand of a judge. Describe the conditions in the prison.
OLA BINI: OK. So, the conditions have actually been pretty terrible. I was lucky enough to be in one the most—one of the safest and best parts of the prison where I was being held, in CDP El Inca. But there was extreme overcrowding in the whole prison. We were 95 people in my cell block, in a cell block that had 17 cells. We were sleeping about eight people in my cell. I spent the first month sleeping on the floor, on the concrete floor, because there was no possibility of having mattresses or beds for everyone. The sanitary conditions were extremely bad, no access to clean water, most of the time no access to any water at all, and never any access to warm water. People were sick through most of this period. And, of course, there were a lot of violence and a lot of danger in this environment, as well. I would say that, in my opinion, the people—the over 2,000 people that are being held at El Inca are being held in inhuman conditions.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did you get out?
OLA BINI: How I got out? So, we’ve tried several times to get me out, initially by appealing, having an appeal hearing and appealing the decision to imprison me. Second, we tried to get me out on bail, and that was also denied, for reasons that were quite astounding to us. But finally, we submitted a writ of habeas corpus, and the tribunal accepted this habeas corpus. And the habeas corpus showed—or, the tribunal’s decision showed that the habeas corpus was correct, because the initial detainment was done in an illegal way, in several different illegal ways, as a matter of fact.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you comment, since you were arrested the same day as your friend, Julian Assange, in London—can you comment on his arrest? And also, talk about whether you see a broader crackdown on journalists right now.
OLA BINI: Yes, absolutely. I’m very sad about what happened to Julian. I think that—I’m both sad and I’m worried about my friend. I think that what Ecuador—Ecuador revoking his asylum and allowing the British police to come in and arrest him was something that they had promised to not do. And the way they did it, actually, was really, really bad.
And I do feel like there is a wider crackdown. I think that global surveillance, global—the global crackdown on people working in security and privacy fields, and this general feeling that privacy is not a human right anymore, this is something that scares me a lot, because, for me, privacy is one of the most important rights we have. It’s the fundamental right for democracy, in my opinion. So, it scares me that this is a trend that we’re seeing more and more over the last few years.
AMY GOODMAN: Ola Bini, can you talk about your own work as a data privacy activist? You were born in Sweden. Why you ended up going to Ecuador? Your work there?
OLA BINI: So, that’s a long story, but I can say, over the last 10 years, privacy and security has been my main passion. And the work I do is really two different kinds of work. Primarily, I am a software developer, so I write programs that I give away to the whole world, that tries to improve people’s security. I work and collaborate with different organizations to do this, so it’s not work that I do alone. For example, I’ve been part of the advisory board for the DECODE project that the European Commission has created, that is meant to increase decentralization and privacy of citizens in the European Union. I’ve also contributed to many different projects, including Tor, including OTR and other projects that are meant to protect the security and privacy of everyone in the world.
Another part of my work has been, as a security expert, I sometimes get asked by friends around the world, outside of Ecuador—has been asking me to come and help them give advice on security. For example, journalists that work on investigating extrajudicial killings, they’re facing extreme threats and extreme risks. And sometimes I’ve gone and helped these kind of people, giving them advice on how to be more secure. Of course, I cannot mention any names of organizations where I’ve helped, but that kind of work has also been an important part of what I do.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel like you’re being targeted for that?
OLA BINI: I don’t know. I can only speculate. I think that I’m—I think that people that are friends of Julian are being targeted. And I think that people that care about human rights are being targeted.
AMY GOODMAN: Ola Bini is a Swedish programmer and data privacy activist, arrested in Ecuador April 11th, just hours after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in London, taken out by force by British authorities from the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he had lived and had been granted political asylum for the past seven years. The new president of Ecuador revoked that asylum, and now Julian Assange has been imprisoned in the Belmarsh Prison in London. It remains to be seen what will happen with Ola Bini, while he has been freed on orders of a judge after two months in an Ecuadorian jail. He has been told he cannot leave Ecuador. No charges have been brought against him.
To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.