Crime & Justice

Trial of Swedish friend of Assange’s kicks off in Ecuador

Quito, Jan 19 (EFE).- The trial of Swedish programmer and Internet activist Ola Bini, a friend of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s who is accused of hacking the computer systems of Ecuadorian public telecommunications company CNT, kicked off on Wednesday.

“After almost three years (and) more than 100 violations of Ola’s rights, and thanks to the support of more than 100 organizations at the national and international level, including the United Nations, the Inter-American human rights system … we finally have the opportunity to appear before a court,” the defendant’s attorney, Carlos Soria, said.

Prior to entering the courthouse – the Complejo Judicial Norte in Quito – the lawyer said his client merely wants justice to be served.

In October, the CNT requested that the judicial proceedings be postponed.

Soria said the delays in the process have been unnecessary but expressed confidence Wednesday that the judges will find Bini innocent, adding that “the only thing he’s done is work in the country.”

Bini was arrested on April 11, 2019, in Quito while he was preparing to board a flight to Tokyo. He was detained just hours after Ecuador’s government, then-headed by President Lenin Moreno, abruptly ended Assange’s diplomatic asylum at its embassy in London.

“We’ve never denied (a friendship existed between Bini and Assange),” Soria said. “If that’s a crime, the Attorney General’s Office is crazy.”

The Swede has been under investigation since 2019 for allegedly also trying to gain unauthorized access to the computer systems of state oil company Petroecuador and the former National Intelligence Secretariat.

Bini was initially held in preventive detention for 70 days before being released, although he still is barred from leaving the country, has had his bank accounts frozen and is required to report to the AG’s office on a weekly basis.

Then-Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said at the time of the suspect’s arrest that he had sought to destabilize the government by “collaborating” with WikiLeaks and Assange, who was granted asylum in August 2012 by then-Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa but lost that protection after Moreno took office and proceeded to reverse virtually all of his former mentor’s initiatives and programs.

Assange took refuge at Ecuador’s embassy after losing a battle in the British courts to avoid extradition to Sweden, where prosecutors had been seeking to question him about rape allegations dating back to 2010.

Assange, who has repeatedly denied all the accusations, said in justifying his decision to seek asylum that once he was in Swedish custody the United States would pressure Stockholm into handing him over for prosecution based on WikiLeaks’ publication in 2010 and 2011 of leaked classified American military documents.

Even though Sweden dropped the rape investigation in November 2019, the 50-year-old Assange has been held at a high-security prison in the United Kingdom since he was arrested at the Ecuadorian Embassy in April 2019 for skipping bail to avoid being extradited to Sweden.

The London High Court of Justice in December of last year ruled that Assange could be extradited from the UK to the US on espionage charges, although the WikiLeaks founder has lodged an appeal.

Amnesty International called the court’s ruling a “travesty of justice.”

“Publishing information that is in the public interest is a cornerstone of media freedom and the public’s right to information about government wrongdoing. It is also protected under international human rights law and should not be criminalized,” the human rights watchdog said. EFE


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