Ola Bini, a software developer and activist, has been remanded for 90 days in Ecuador. Ola Bini was arrested in Quito on April 11 as he was about to board a flight to Japan. He was held in detention for nearly 30 hours without a hearing, which is illegal. He was allowed access to a lawyer only after 17 hours. At the hearing, instead of presenting concrete charges, the authorities asked for 90 days of pre-trial detention for investigation. Bini is a Swedish citizen and was detained without the knowledge of the Swedish embassy, which is a violation of international protocol on such matters.
The detention came hours after Ecuador’s interior minister claimed at a press conference that there were “Russian hackers” in the country. Bini has been a prominent advocate of free software and comprehensive digital privacy. He has done extensive work on anonymity and secure communication with a variety of internal organizations, in addition to writing books on technology. He is a Swedish citizen with valid work and residence permits in Ecuador. His detention is being seen as part of a crackdown on the community that supports technology that enables greater security in communications.
At the time of his detention, Bini, a martial arts enthusiast, was about to board a plane to Japan to undergo training under the famous international martial arts organization Bunjinkan. Several activists and close friends of his have cried foul over the detention. Prominent academic and activist, Vijay Prashad, said “Ola Bini is an innocent man, arrested in Ecuador for no reason…”. Prashad has asked people over various social media platforms to pressure president Lenin Moreno into releasing Bini. Chief Scientist at ThoughtWorks and Bini’s former colleague, Martin Fowler, also tweeted “I’m very concerned to hear that my friend and colleague Ola Bini has been arrested in Ecuador. He is a strong advocate and developer supporting privacy and has not been able to speak to any lawyers”.
Media reports quoted Ecuadorian officials as saying that Bini was arrested as part of dismantling a blackmail plot against president Lenin Moreno. However, speaking to Newsclick, lawyer and activist Renata Avila said that “Bini’s arrest is just Lenin Moreno trying to save face by recreating the same kind of trial show the US establishment did with the Russian hackers.” Moreno has been in the thick of controversy after the release of the INA papers which revealed corruption by those close to him.
In a series of tweets, Y. Kiran Chandra, general secretary of the Free Software Movement of India, said Ola was a significant contributor to privacy enhancement technology, and asked why “one of the finest developers who solves problems in society through tech is being treated in a nasty way”.
Earlier Bini had retweeted interior minister Maria Paula Romo’s comment about Russian hackers being in the country, with the comment that it was worrisome and seemed like a witch hunt.
(This news report has been updated in the light of recent developments)