Swedish software developer and digital rights activist Ola Bini was acquitted of charges of hacking Ecuador government computer systems Tuesday by a court in Quito. A three-judge panel ruled there was no evidence to convict Bini, who was arrested in 2019, and that legal proceedings against him have been marred by “gross irregularities.”
Bini is a friend and associate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and has worked on various WikiLeaks projects.
Speaking to reporters after the decision, Carlos Soria, a member of Bini’s legal team, called the tribunal’s unanimous verdict “unexpected” and a “very nice surprise.”
“Ola has endured four years of legal irregularities, over 100 violations of due process and we are pleased to see his nightmare come to an end,” Soria said. “His arrest was based on his association with Julian Assange and nothing else, and we believe this was a case of political persecution.”
Prosecutors say they will file an appeal and Bini’s legal team says it will be prepared if it happens.
The judges said that Bini is free to leave the country, lifting a prohibition that had been in place for more than three years.
The Center for Digital Autonomy, an organization Bini is associated with, said the verdict marked a milestone in the defense of digital security and human rights. It added that the verdict ratified that “our work should not be criminalized, especially when they [the prosecution] does not have solid technical arguments.
Bini was arrested in Quito on April 11, 2019, the same day Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and arrested. From the outset, activists across the world pointed out the procedural lapses in the arrest and condemned the then Lenin Moreno government for persecuting Bini. He was released after 70 days in prison. At that time, the prosecution had not even formalized any charges or presented any evidence.
The prosecution kept amending the charges against Bini and finally came up with the accusation of illegal, non-consensual access to a computer or communications system, which carries a jail sentence of anywhere between three to five years.
In September 2019, the judge presiding over the trial was forced to recuse himself after allowing undue interference in the case from the prosecutor’s office.
Throughout the trial, digital rights organizations, such as Access Now, Article 19, and Electronic Frontier Foundation chronicled the numerous procedural violations and conducted an international campaign in solidarity with Bini.