Friend of Assange Found Innocent of False Charges in Ecuador

Privacy advocate Ola Bini was finally found innocent of nebulous charges that kept him under control of the legal system for 3 years. Today we share his story as he told it on social media at the end of last month. This morning, he clarified the status of his case. Though the verdict will be appealed, Ola is still smiling, now certain he will prevail.

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Two weeks ago was the final trial day in the district trial against me. If you haven't been up to date on this case, I am being accused of illegally entering the systems of CNT - an Ecuadorean public telco. The accusation is backed up with an image that if displaying something real, shows a terminal session with Telnet, where Telnet is used to connect over Tor to an IP address. The machine asks for a username, nothing is entered and the connection times out. This is what the Ecuador government claims is the main proof against me.

I was first arrested on April 11th, 2019, for other charges. This was later changed. I was in jail for 70 days until released by a Habeas Corpus. Instead, since June 20th, 2019, I've been living with restrictions on my bank accounts, prohibition to leave the country and weekly presentation to the prosecutor. We have been basically waiting for the trial to finish for almost four years. It finally started in Jan 2021.

In this thread, I quickly wanted to recap what happened during the last trial day (Jan 31, 2023), and what might come next.

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The day started around 8:30 in the morning. We had received a very small court room, and it was shock full of people. Observers from various prominent rights organizations, journalists, lawyers, family. It was full enough that the temperature became hard to regulate in the room. When we came in, a zoom call was in progress on the big video conferencing equipment. My lawyers asked why - if there was a remote witness or someone joining, but the tech person said no - and didn't want to answer anymore about why the equipment was in a call. This has happened on earlier days, and we suspect that someone was calling in from somewhere else to observe the proceedings... The three judges of the tribunal came in around 8:40 and we got started.

The main part of this day was dedicated to my testimony. In Ecuador, the defendent can give a free version, but not under oath. We had decided that there was no point for me to talk about technical issues since that was the purpose of my expert witnesses. Instead, I was meant to primarily cover the human rights abuses and emotional components of what had happened to me - something no one else could do.

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I spent about 5 hours talking. It was quite complicated, especially since it all had to be translated. So I had to talk slowly and take my time preparing each sentence. About half of the testimony went to describing the first 48 hours and a large number of abuses that happened during this time period. Then I talked about many of the other things that happened after I came out of prison. I covered my illegal surveillance, and all the other persecution we have seen. I also talked a bit about the absurdity of changing the charge two days before the end of the time period for evidence collection. About the insanity of my phone content apparently being available to media, but never to my defense. And so on. The final piece covered my feelings about all the things that had been covered in the hearing but didn't have any bearing on the case against me at all. Things such as the tax reports of my coworkers. Or my lack of formal education. Or the fact that I wear a black hat...
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When my testimony was over, I was dead tired - but also relieved. It was emotionally tough to get through all that - it was probably the toughest part of the trial for me. At this point it was already around 2pm in the afternoon. The judges asked if my defense was prepared to organize their documentary evidence, which they did while the rest of us took a pause. Then it was time for us to present the documents. We also had a few pieces of new evidence to introduce, including a report from Shodan that showed that the IP address in question clearly was publicly available in 2015. Another piece of evidence was a report from the UN that clearly stated that Tor is a recommended tool for protecting human rights. Sadly, the judges denied the introduction of these pieces of evidence. The argument was that the Shodan report couldn't serve as new evidence since we already had known about the IP address during the investigation period (even though we only had two days for the new charge)... This didn't seem like a great counter argument, and clearly not very legal. One more violation.

Most of our regular evidence was admitted. A lot of it showed clearly criminal wrong doing by the prosecutor and other actors in the case. Other pieces showed how government functionaries had lied and contradicted themselves over and over in the case. Others showed that the government never submitted the proof they claimed they would submit to the process. And so on.

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At this point, it was already after 5 in the afternoon and everyone was tired. The judges proposed we reconvene the next week. However, this would have caused problems with my translation. My lawyers proposed we simply continue until we finished, and the judges ultimately accepted. I wasn't super comfortable with the situation. Of course, I want it all to be over, but I was scared of what would happen. I expected the prosecutor to say all kinds of crazy things, and I expected the judges to continue with their illegal decisions.

But when the prosecutor started with his closing argument, it was clear he had absolutely no idea of what he was doing. He tried to imply I was a bad guy over and over, without actually having any proof for it. He implied I had something illegal to hide, since I didn't want to cooperate by opening my locked machines. He implied the computer in the so called photograph must have been mine, since I had Lenovo computers in my house, and the logo on the computer in the image was also Lenovo. He accused me of breaking into a telecommunications system, using Telnet, and said that the image proved it behind reasonable doubt. And that was it.


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Finally it was time for my defense lawyer to do his closing. He had originally planned on needing over an hour for this, but the judges told him he would only have 30 minutes, so he had to cut out a large amount of material. But what was left was still dynamite. He started out by pointing out that the prosecutor was accusing me under the wrong version of the criminal law of Ecuador - which is a pretty huge mistake. The version he should have used had significantly more requirements than the new one, and the prosecutor hadn't even tried to prove any of the other requirements. Just this should have invalidated the whole charade.

My lawyer spent a lot of time pointing out the problems with the theory, and explaining how all the available evidence clearly showed my innocence. It was a great performance. In fact, my lawyer destroyed the accusation in a very definitive way.

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At this point I once again expected the judges to suspend the hearing. We had thousands of pages of material and 9 full days of testimony. No way could they analyze everything and come back with a decision the same day. But to our surprise, the judges told us to leave and wait for a decision. This was something that worried us all. Noone thought it could be a good sign. We expected a big loss. On the same hand, I felt pretty OK under the circumstances. I had accepted that they would convict me, but I felt the day had been extremely strong, and it seemed to me like we had all the material necessary to fight back in higher instances.

Around 8pm the judges called us back to the court room. They started reading back their understanding of the positions of the different sides. They clarified that they had discarded basically all the evidence from CNT and the prosecution as completely irrelevant. They didn't touch on anything related to rights violations nor illegal actions during the years. Instead, they focused very narrowly on the accusation. When they finally reached the end and declared unanimously that there was absolutely no evidence to show any illegal actions on my part, ratifying my innocence, we were extremely surprised. None of us had expected it.

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So what happened? How could they reach this decision? I still believe there was a lot of political pressure on the judges to convict me. I still believe that the tribunal had the intention of convicting. We saw a large number of very improper decisions from them during the trial days, so this tells me they had no problem acting in a political way. So what happened? I think that the tribunal ultimately realized that the accusation was so badly done that if they convicted, it could have a big impact on their careers. Basically, they wanted to convict, but they couldn't see a way of doing it under the circumstances, considering the terrible job CNT and the prosecution did. Ultimately, if the goal is to keep me under control and drag out the proceedings, the victory doesn't change anything, since they can still continue holding me hostage while we wait for all the appeals and everything. So, that's what happened.


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