Hours after the ejection of Julian Assange from the London Ecuadorean embassy last week, police officers in Ecuador detained the Swedish citizen and open source developer Ola Bini. They seized him as he prepared to travel from his home in Quito to Japan, claiming that he was attempting to flee the country in the wake of Assange’s arrest. Bini had, in fact, booked the vacation long ago, and had publicly mentioned it on his twitter account before Assange was arrested.
Ola’s detention was full of irregularities, as documented by his lawyers. His warrant was for a “Russian hacker” (Bini is neither); he was not read his rights, allowed to contact his lawyer nor offered a translator.
The charges against him, when they were finally made public, are tenuous. Ecuador’s general prosecutor has stated that Bini was accused of “alleged participation in the crime of assault on the integrity of computer systems” and attempts to destabilize the country. The “evidence” seized from Ola’s home that Ecuadorean police showed journalists to demonstrate his guilt was nothing more than a pile of USB drives, hard drives, two-factor authentication keys, and technical manuals: all familiar property for anyone working in his field.
Ola is a free software developer, who worked to improve the security and privacy of the Internet for all its users. He has worked on several key open source projects, including JRuby, several Ruby libraries, as well as multiple implementations of the secure and open communication protocol OTR. Ola’s team at ThoughtWorks contributed to Certbot, the EFF-managed tool that has provided strong encryption for millions of websites around the world.
Like many people working on the many distributed projects defending the Internet, Ola has no need to work from a particular location. He traveled the world, but chose to settle in Ecuador because of his love of that country and of South America in general. At the time of his arrest, he was putting down roots in his new home, including co-founding Centro de Autonomia Digital, a non-profit devoted to creating user-friendly security tools, based out of Ecuador’s capital, Quito.
One might expect the Ecuadorean administration to hold up Bini as an example of the high-tech promise of the country, and use his expertise to assist the new administration in securing their infrastructure — just as his own European Union made use of Ola’s expertise when developing its government-funded DECODE privacy project.
Instead, Ecuador’s leadership has targeted him for arrest as a part of wider political process to distance itself from WikiLeaks. They have incorporated Ola into a media story that claims he was part of a gang of Russian hackers who planned to destabilize the country in retaliation for Julian Assange’s ejection.
At EFF, we are familiar with overzealous prosecutors attempting to implicate innocent coders by portraying them as dangerous cyber-masterminds, as well as demonizing the tools and lifestyle of coders that work to defend the security of critical infrastructure, not undermine it. These cases are indicative of an inappropriate tech panic, and their claims are rarely borne out by the facts.
As expressed by the many technologists supporting Ola Bini in our statement of solidarity, Ecuador should drop all charges against him, and allow Ola to return home to his family and friends. Ecuador’s leaders undermine their country’s reputation abroad and the independence of its judicial system by this fanciful and unfounded prosecution.