Police in Ecuador have arrested Swedish programmer and digital privacy activist Ola Bini for allegedly trying to destabilise the Ecuadorian government by “collaborating” with WikiLeaks. Bini was arrested at Quito Airport in Ecuador on his way to Japan.
Ecuador’s interior minister, Maria Paula Romo, didn’t name Bini when announcing the arrest but said that a person was wanted for “investigative purposes”.
Bini’s arrest is likely connected to assertions earlier this month by Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno that his private messages and photos were leaked to Twitter and Facebook. The leak was allegedly part of a blackmail plot that hasn’t been fully explained by the Ecuadorian government.
“For several years now, one of the key members of this WikiLeaks organisation and a person close to Mr Julian Assange has lived in Ecuador, and we have sufficient evidence that he has been collaborating with the destabilisation attempts against the government,” Romo said at a press conference yesterday.
Romo alleges that Bini worked with “two Russian hackers” who also live in Ecuador, but it isn’t clear that anyone else has been apprehended yet in connection to this case. Romo said that their descriptions were being given to prosecutors.
The news of Bini’s arrest comes on the heels of Thursday’s dramatic apprehension of Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks cofounder was physically removed by British police from the Ecuadorian embassy in London after spending nearly seven years there claiming asylum.
Assange has been charged by the US Department of Justice with “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion” for allegedly attempting to help whistleblower Chelsea Manning crack the password of a computer controlled by the US Army. That attempt failed.
Bini’s arrest at the Quito Airport is being portrayed in some media circles as an attempt to “flee” to Japan, but his two-week trip had been announced on Bini’s Twitter account earlier this week, well before Assange’s arrest.
Bini is a fan of martial arts who was reportedly travelling to Japan to train with the martial arts organisation Bunjinkan, according to independent news site the Peoples’ Dispatch.
Bini’s last tweets before being arrested were about Ecuador’s claims that they were looking for Russian hackers in the country.
“Very worrisome news – this seems like a witch hunt to me,” Bini tweeted.
María Paula Romo, Ecuador Minister of the Interior, this morning held a press conference, claiming there are Russian hackers in Ecuador, and also that there is one person part of WikiLeaks living in Ecuador since several years. https://t.co/OsTQO2kDpc
— Ola Bini (@olabini) April 11, 2019
Bini, who has reportedly lived in Ecuador for “several years”, is the author and co-author of several computer programming books about Ruby on Rails. Bini had visited Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London on “several” occasions, at least according to Romo.
“We are not going to allow Ecuador to become a hacking centre,” Romo said. “And we cannot allow illegal activities to take place in the country, either to harm Ecuadoran citizens or those from other countries or any government.”
Assange is facing extradition to the United States and has a hearing in London in roughly four weeks. But it isn’t clear yet whether Bini will be charged with anything. All we know for sure is that US President Donald Trump has soured on WikiLeaks.
By some counts, President Trump has praised WikiLeaks at least 141 times. But Trump is pretending that he doesn’t know what WikiLeaks is anymore.
“I know nothing about WikiLeaks,” Trump said in the White House on Thursday. “It’s not my thing.”