After years of waiting, it has been announced that Swedish activist Ola Bini’s trial will take place between 19 and 21 January, beginning at 8.30am Ecuadorian time (10.30am Brasília, Brazil time). Bini is an activist, globally recognised as a leading expert on information security, and was arrested in April 2019 in Ecuador. He faces the charge of “non-consensual access to a computer system”.
The activist was held in preventive detention for 70 days until he was granted habeas corpus and moved, though he remained in detention. Bini is prohibited from leaving Ecuador. His devices were confiscated in connection with the investigation and the government still has them in its possession. Hearings have been suspended and rescheduled several times since the arrest. The trial was initially scheduled for October 21, 2021, but on October 19, 2021 a postponement was announced. After two years and seven months of detention, the new date has been scheduled for this week.
Human rights organisations around the world have been following Bini’s case, including ARTICLE 19, which is also calling for the authorities to respect the principle of publicity, the right to privacy and to internet security. The organisations call for due legal process to be upheld and for independence of the judiciary, as well as for the trial to be observed by independent experts.
“The case falls within the claim of publicity and access to information of public interest, a context in which restrictions can only occur exceptionally and with strict observation of the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality,” said Rafaela de Alcântara, advisor to the Digital Rights Programme for ARTICLE 19 Brazil and South America. “In this sense, in the case of any restriction to the access to judgements that concern issues of public interest, these must be publicised, as well as respective monitoring by civil society, being that this justification must be followed by the analysis of the mentioned principles.”
The outcome of his trial could have profound implications for the development and use of secure digital communications, on which people rely worldwide to exercise their right to freedom of expression and other human rights. “In Brazil, the Budapest Convention was approved without reservations at the end of last year and delivers, in its wording, that devices that may leave the activist community working with information security vulnerable to criminalisation, even if they carry out legitimate and beneficial research. Thus, the Ola Bini case is important because, with the inclusion of the Convention’s provisions in Brazilian legislation, there is the fear that cases like his will be repeated,” Alcântara said.
The Convention’s provisions, ARTICLE 19, argues, if applied in this case, will have implications for the whole region. Individuals who work on information security to promote digital rights are human rights defenders and they must enjoy and be entitled to protection, just as human rights defenders should.