Assange friend, jailed in Ecuador, proclaims innocence as pressure rises on WikiLeaks
Posted May 30, 2019 1:47 p.m. EDT
CNN — A close friend of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who was arrested last month at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, told CNN in an exclusive jailhouse interview that he hasn't committed any crimes and is being detained as part of an international campaign to crack down on WikiLeaks.
Speaking from a crowded jail in the capital city of Quito, Swedish computer programmer Ola Bini blasted the Ecuadorian government for holding him without charges for seven weeks and dared them publicly present the evidence against him. Authorities say he's suspected of hacking government computers and senior Ecuadorian officials have touted his arrest on national television.
"They will find nothing because I haven't done anything," Bini said of the ongoing Ecuadorian investigation into his activities. "The only thing I've done is being a friend of Julian Assange."
An Ecuadorian judge on Wednesday denied Bini's request to be released on bail. He hasn't been charged with crimes, but authorities say they're investigating his potential ties to a sweeping hacking campaign.
Bini was detained at the international airport in Quito several hours after Assange was arrested and dragged out of the country's embassy in London, where the WikiLeaks founder was holed up since 2012. The timing of the arrests suggested a coordinated effort among governments across the Atlantic.
Since then, US prosecutors have brought a slew of new charges against Assange under the Espionage Act, ramping up the pressure by using an untested legal theory that could put him in prison for life. And in Ecuador, international human rights organizations have unsuccessfully tried to secure Bini's freedom.
The two men have been friends for years. Ecuadorian government sources told CNN that Bini visited Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London at least 15 times since 2015. His last meeting there was in January.
During that period, WikiLeaks played a major role in the 2016 US presidential election when it leaked thousands of hacked emails from Democratic National Committee staffers and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman. In March 2017, WikiLeaks revealed internal CIA documents in what Assange described as a warning about the risk of "cyber weapons."
"Just as me, he believes very strongly in the right to privacy, so the first time I went, I actually went to talk to him about these kinds of things," Bini said. "I kept coming back because I like him, because he is a friend of mine and I kept coming back because more and more people abandoned him ... I felt it was my responsibility to do it but also my pleasure as a friend."
After Bini was arrested in April, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno called him a "hacker" and suggested that he plotted with Assange on how to undermine the government in Quito. Moreno was the victim of cyberattacks earlier this year after his private emails and texts were leaked, though Bini denies any involvement.
The programmer said it feels "like the government is out to get me" and denied being a hacker.
"I wonder if (Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno) hates me because subjecting me to something like this, this kind of process where I am put in prison without any evidence, when I know I am innocent because I haven't done anything, that feels personal to me," Bini said.
The government of Ecuador told CNN that Bini's detention was authorized by a judge and that Bini was not being prosecuted for political reasons. They also said they have "solid evidence" against Bini and that a judge will have the final say on his detention.
United Nations officials have raised concerns about Bini's detention, citing the weakness of the evidence that has become public so far, which connects Bini to Assange but not necessarily any criminal activity. Similarly, some activists have decried the Justice Department's new charges against Assange, which some legal experts believe pose a grave threat to the First Amendment.
Taken together, both cases show how the tables have turned on WikiLeaks, which once partnered with top news organizations to release closely held secrets. Now, its founder faces extradition to the US and its associates are claiming harassment around the globe.
Assange maintains his innocence while he awaits extradition hearings and is serving a one-year prison term in London for skipping bail. His organization said the US charges against him were "the worst attack on press freedom in our lifetime."