Ecuador: Ola Bini innocent verdict must lead to stronger digital rights

Ecuador: Ola Bini innocent verdict must lead to stronger digital rights - Digital

An Ecuadorian court has found Swedish digital rights, privacy and human rights activist Ola Bini innocent, ending a long legal battle and providing an opportunity for better safeguards for online freedoms to be put in place in the country. ARTICLE 19 welcomes the decision and urges the authorities to uphold the ruling and to not appeal Bini’s acquittal.

The decision, which was announced on 31 January, is a victory for digital rights in the country and the region. We reiterate that authorities should have dropped the charges in 2019, when Bini first faced arrest and charges, rather than postponing hearings and delaying the process for almost four years, a process that likely created a chilling effect on digital security researchers and the wider digital rights community. The decision signals a positive step towards ensuring that digital rights defenders are not criminalised. It provides an opportunity for governments in the region, and throughout the world, to ensure human rights are put at the heart of the development and use of secure digital communications, and  to recognise that individuals working on information security to promote and protect digital rights are human rights defenders and are entitled to protection, just as human rights defenders are.

Information security expert Ola Bini was arrested in April 2019 on charges of ‘non-consensual access to a computer system’. He was jailed for 70 days until eventually being released under Ecuador’s habeas corpus provisions, but was barred from leaving the country, prompting a campaign for his freedom led by Latin American civil society organisations, including ARTICLE 19’s Brazil and South America office, Mexico and Central America office, and the international office.  

Over the last three and half years, ARTICLE 19 repeatedly highlighted the numerous due process violations in the case, and in the entire legal process, and stated that the charges against him were based on little or no evidence. Police seized Bini’s electronic equipment during his arrest, and retained it during the years his case remained unresolved. Hearings for the case were repeatedly postponed. 

ARTICLE 19 now calls for Ecuadorian authorities to uphold the ruling and refrain from appealing Bini’s innocence, thereby demonstrating a commitment to human rights in the country and the region. In addition, we call on the Ecuadorian authorities to strengthen their protection for human rights exercised through the use of and access to technology, including the right to privacy and freedom of expression. Further, we reiterate the importance of transparency and multi-stakeholder participation in developing policies that impact digital rights, ensuring the views of multiple parties are considered and the public is informed about these processes. We urge the government to acknowledge the work of researchers, human rights and civil society activists, and digital technicians when engaging in policy and legislative processes that have an impact on human rights. ARTICLE 19 will continue to defend human rights and to denounce the abuses committed by states against digital rights defenders, including computer and information activists and researchers – as in the case of Ola Bini’s colleague, Julian Assange, who is currently awaiting a decision on his extradition to the United States. 

Read more about Ola Bini’s case