Police Raid Tech Experts Home for Being Hired By Ola Bini’s Defence

Ecuador police busted down his door, seized his equipment, and refused to let him access the warrant. All because Ola Bini’s defence hired him to act as a witness.

It is being labelled as witness intimidation. On Thursday morning, police conducted a raid at the home of Fabián Hurtado, a tech expert. Police seized his phone and took other pieces of equipment in a raid. His crime, so far as we can tell at this stage, is that he was hired by the defence team of Ola Bini. He is supposed to act as an expert witness in Bini’s trial.

In April, Bini was arrested by Ecuador’s authorities for seemingly the crime of possessing technical manual’s and hard drive’s. Allegedly, Bini had some fuzzy connection with Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder that angered the American government for exposing corruption. What that connection is is unclear at this stage. Regardless, Ecuador saw fit to charge him for being a Russian hacker. Bini’s supporters point out that he is Swedish and not a hacker.

In early September, leaked trial evidence showed a screenshot of white scary letters on a black screen. The Electronic Frontier Foundation examined the screen shot and pointed out that Telnet is not a crime.

While what we’ve seen so far suggests that prosecutors are grasping at straws trying to find anything to make Bini look guilty, it seems that they have not given up yet. Amnesty International reported that Fabián Hurtado had his house raided by police. Amnesty International says that, because of this action, Bini’s right to a fair trial has been jeopardized. From their report:

The raid carried out by the Attorney General’s Office on the home of Fabián Hurtado, the independent information technology expert witness in the case of digital rights defender Ola Bini, which resulted in the seizure of his electronic equipment, again caused great concern about the guarantee of a fair trial for Bini, Amnesty International said today.

“Amnesty International has shown that undue government interference has occurred in the case of Ola Bini. The violent manner in which authorities have carried out this operation seems intended to intimidate Ola Bini’s defence team and those who defend the right to privacy and other digital rights. This incident again shows that Ola Bini is in danger of not receiving a fair trial,” said Fernanda Doz Costa, deputy director for the Americas at Amnesty International.

Fabián Hurtado was commissioned by Ola Bini’s defence team to analyze the evidence against him. According to public information, yesterday, in the early morning, agents of the Attorney General’s Office and the Judicial Police raided his home and seized his electronic equipment.

According to statements made by Hurtado and his defence team, the agents entered violently, breaking down the door to the building where he lives without even ringing the bell or knocking on the door. Hurtado asserted that, though he was presented with a warrant, he was not allowed to read it, nor was he given a copy, and he was prevented from immediately contacting his lawyer because his cell phone was seized.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for their part, says that this is witness intimidation and that this represents a new low for the Bini case. From the EFF:

This raid was prompted, according to the authorities, by a belief that Hurtado “incorporated misleading information in his resume to try to mislead the authorities and citizens.” If so, the police action was wildly disproportionate to the alleged crime. Hurtado is a well-known, impartial forensics expert in Ecuador, employed by businesses, law enforcement, and defendants and plaintiffs alike. If there is a problem with Hurtado’s resume, the correct step would be to move to have him rejected as a court expert – not to storm into his home in the middle of the night.

Technical expertise will be vital ensuring a fair verdict in the Bini case, and the legitimacy of the trial will ultimately revolve around the technical knowledge of the court. The prosecution, after months of no obvious leads or reasons for Bini’s arrest and detention, settled last week on a charge based on a single screenshot obtained from Bini’s phone, showing a brief telnet connection years ago to an open router.

Bini’s case, from the very start, has been splayed across Ecuador’s media by the government, prosecutors and other political actors, with public opinion and short-term political expediency playing a greater part in the prosecution’s strategies rather than evidence and a fair trial. Given the high stakes initially described by government ministers and the prosecution – of squads of malicious hackers, and of Russian agents plotting to bring down the country’s infrastructure – the level of media attention is unsurprising. The danger to justice arises when one side uses their power as public servants to distort and undermine the legal process. With the raid on Fabián Hurtado, the prosecution give the impression of wanting to intimidate those most able to shine light on a very shady political affair.

The organization went on to say that they urge the government to step back and let the facts speak for itself in the trial. They also call for fairness and due process for the trial among other things.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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