Ola Bini’s report on his 1st week of trial, again interrupted before defence witnesses could speak: As usual in my process, there were a huge number of new violations.
“This week has been difficult and frustrating. It’s never easier to be at the centre of this kind of madness”
Tweet of The Tor Project (organisation à but non lucratif qui défend votre vie privée et votre liberté en ligne) :
Ola Bini’s (@olabini) trial in Quito, Ecuador resumed last week, but was halted again before Tor’s co-founder, Roger Dingledine, along with all other defense witnesses, could speak. We still support Ola and hope that the trial resumes quickly and that justice prevails.
Tweets of Ola Bini:
Last week the trial against me finally started. We spent 3 days with prosecution witnesses, and then the trial was suspended indefinitely. In this thread I’ll try to tell you all some of the things that happened.
But first, there were several observers at this hearing. I really appreciate all their support. If you read Spanish, ODJ has extremely good coverage from all these days, at @odjecuador.
I just mentioned that we only spent time with the prosecution witnesses. Specifically, we heard 14 witnesses in total, over 3 days. They still have 3 more witnesses. CNT has 1 witness. And the defense has 33 witnesses.
On top of all that, each side will also present documentary evidence of various kinds, and then there’s the closing arguments from each side. So how could this trial have been scheduled for only 3 days?
In fact, it’s worse than that. On the official documents from the prosecution, they were planning to call over 50 witnesses, and so did the defense. How could the tribunal ever think that 3 days would be enough?
As usual in my process, there were a huge number of new violations. We heard lies, contradictions and complete fabrications. And we heard technical details that once again disprove the accusations against me.
I can’t really describe all of these things – it’s simply too much. So as you read, assume that ten times more things happened of the same character.
Let’s begin with the environment of the trial. The hearing was a mix of remote and in-person. However, the remote connections were full of problems. Sometimes it was impossible to hear.
And for transferring official documents to witnesses, a process was used where the lawyers took photographs of the documents with their phones, and sent them over WhatsApp…
There were a large police presence in the trial room – cops from various different groups – not only the ones from the judicial building. These officers were often acting intimidating and threatening.
One thing you are never allowed in an Ecuador court room is to take photos, videos or recordings. However, we saw cops doing exactly this at least three times.
When we tried to bring it to the attention of the judges, they threatened to throw out the person from the public reporting it, while the cop taking photos did not receive any consequences.
In the same way, witnesses were not allowed to look in or hear the proceedings. But the doors were open and sometimes witnesses stood there. The cops guarding the room saw this but never did anything.
Two witnesses from the prosecutor side were actually removed as witnesses because the judges considered them contaminated. These two witnesses would have been helpful for us to prove more violations…
We think it is possible that the prosecutors office actually instructed these witnesses to let themselves be contaminated, in order to remove their potential testimony.
In general, the cops were harassing people supporting me, including telling them to stop using their mobile phones, even though this is actually allowed. The prosecutor side had no such problem.
ODJ reports the same behavior, where my supporters were treated in a completely different way, and harassed by the cops.
Through these three days, one of the more constant things was that the main judge critized the prosecutor for lack of understanding of the process. The prosecutor did a large number of interventions.
However, almost none of them were actually allowed. In some cases the judge literally said to the prosecutor “you can’t object to that!”. He was also critized for not managing the case well at all.
As I’ve mentioned before, Ecuador has this system with specialized experts called “peritos”. These are the people that write expert reports about different subjects, and takes part in the forensic analysis.
About half the witnesses we heard were actually peritos, mostly from Criminalística (which is the forensic laboratory of the national police here in Ecuador). Sadly, there were a large number of problems with these expert reports.
The absolutely worst mistake was probably the expert who was supposed to “materialize” a video from the internet. (This process basically means to make a copy of the video and put it on permanent storage material and then document the procedure in a report).
This was asked to be done pretty early in the process by my defense, and of course, this is official evidence, so subject to a stringent chain of custody requirements.
Imagine our surprise when we ask to have this video played for the tribunal, and the perito takes out the CD and plays the one file on it. And this video is something _completely_ different from the video in his report.
Of course, this can be for any type of reason, including that the perito made a mistake or someone has manipulated the chain of custody. Irrespective, this count as another fraud in the penal process.
Adding insult to injury, the video replacing the one we asked for was from another case, and could potentially have contained sensitive or private information, which was now exposed to the audience in my trial.
Another notable example was from several network experts that did not know what routable and non-routable addresses are. Another expert who uses hashes in their daily work said that the hash-length is the only measure of security.
Just to be clear, the questions around hashes were based on how they are used to ensure the integrity of digital evidence in the chain of custody. But these experts don’t know what they mean.
Another terrible incident came up when the experts actually admitted to changing the configuration of devices in the chain of custody, while maintaining that there’s no problem with doing this.
On top of that, the transcript from a private hearing made it clear to the tribunal that the prosecutor had ordered some configuration changes as well. In theory this should invalidate the evidence completely.
But do you think the judges ruled to take this evidence out? No, of course not. And this was a trend through the whole proceeding.
But do you think the judges ruled to take this evidence out? No, of course not. And this was a trend through the whole proceeding.
One aspect of the perito system in Ecuador is that these people are treated as authorities by the tribunal. They can speculate about motives, saying them as fact, and the tribunal will simply accept it.
One perito was talking about the design of my home network which he had analyzed (and gotten wrong, incidentally). A judge asked _why_ the network was like that. The perito answered with a statement of fact.
This statement was completely incorrect, and he had no reason to come to that conclusion. But the tribunal simply accepted it. My lawyers tell me this is normal. To me, that is terrifying.
The same day, another perito was talking about encryption, saying things about how asymmetric encryption is always stronger than symmetric encryption, and directly comparing key bit sizes between them.
He also mentioned that he knew my hard drives were encrypted with asymmetric encryption. Then, later, he said he had assumed that since I had devices such as GPG card readers.
Finally, he said that he had never said my drives were encrypted with asymmetric encryption. Once again, contradicting himself and objective technical fact. These kinds of things from the technical experts were extremely common through every day. I won’t document more of them – you can just imagine a continuation of similar kinds of problems as already mentioned.
The absolutely first witness in the trial was a cop that started talking about “dirty criminals” and “criminal foreigners” before the judge stopped him, saying this kind of speech was not acceptable.
In general, the police witnesses were acting very nervously through the proceeding. We often caught them in lies and contradictions. The worst one was probably the one that made up his whole testimony.
The first witness on Thursday morning was extremely tough for me. He is the one that was in charge of my illegal detention and was with me through the whole process until I was put in holding cells.
Seeing him was quite traumatic. My remaining memory of him is how he kept lying about what was happening, avoiding to give me any information about what was happening, and keeping me from my lawyers.
This police, just as the other, were very clear that they didn’t have _any_ indication of a crime when they detained me. Everyone says they just followed orders to detain me.
What about the accusations in the opening statements then? You would imagine that these should contain more specifics about the crime I’m supposed to have committed, right?
Sadly, that’s not what happened. Instead, the prosecutor was super vague, simply saying I’m accused of breaking in to the network of CNT. He also added a bunch of hypotheticals.
In fact, most of his opening allegation were things along the lines of “Maybe he came to Ecuador to work as a hacker”. He also claimed I have been recruiting people to do crimes on Twitter.
The CNT accusation was more specific – but what they claim I did actually contradicts their own evidence.
In fact, we have only had one witness that directly talked about anything related to the accusation – this was a technical person that testified on Thursday afternoon.
His testimony also contradicts the accusation from CNT. And what’s also interesting, he made it clear that the prosecutor has never asked for any information from him, except for the IP address in the alleged picture of a screen.
No questions about other IP addresses. No questions about equipment. Logs. Firewalls. Configuration. Nothing of the kind you would need to actually prove an IT-related crime.
Of course, the obvious conclusion is that the Ecuador government never cared about the alleged crime in the first place – they just wanted the surface to look good enough.
On the same line, the prosecutor tried to imply that my Telconet service was unusual in some way, weird, expensive and potentially criminal. Once again, the prosecutors own witness contradicted him.
In fact, this witness confirmed that my service was _not_ unusual and that many others paid significantly more.
This strategy of trying to paint me as a bad person probably peaked with the weird display of a video and news article that had absolutely nothing to do with me at all.
Even more interesting is that neither CNT nor the prosecutor asked _any_ questions related to this. In fact, we saw the same behavior with other witnesses. No or few questions asked at all.
And remember, these witnesses are witnesses for the prosecution, displaying evidence that the prosecution has asked for. Maybe they’re hoping the tribunal will draw weird conclusions on their own.
The theme for Friday was violations of my rights. Specifically, the prosecution and experts displayed a large number of personal messages from my phones. These messages were often of a personal nature.
Including conversations with my then wife, her family and relatives, my own family members and so on. All of this publicly on display in the court room.
Weirdly, one of my phones had all of its content extracted and added to the file, but the other phone they treated differently, in order to “protect my privacy”. But why was it OK with the other phone?
These kinds of inconsistencies show that protecting my rights and privacy was never of any concern. And further, the tribunal did not seem to care about these issues either.
In fact, the tribunal made a judgment about my main phone, basically saying that everything the prosecution had done with it was declared legal.
This includes things such as prohibiting access to the content of the phone to my defense, while the prosecution had full access to it. Apparently the tribunal thinks this is legal.
I probably don’t have to remind anyone on the international rules around proportionality, the right to defend yourself, preservation of human rights and so on…
On top of this, at the end of the three days the prosecution tried to display evidence that had never been approved or announced, and that my defense never had gotten access to.
This was denied – but probably more because it was late in the day. And these audio files were still used by the prosecution and will be part of other evidence which the tribunal has accepted.
Overall, this beginning of the trial was consistent with what I suspected would happen. I had hoped that I would be wrong, and that we would end up with a just hearing.
But once again, we are stuck in a case where the government and the judicial system will violate all my rights in order to condemn me – ignoring also the fact that the evidence shows I’m innocent.
The judges announced at the end that they will need to schedule at least 5 more days, and that this will be hard to do. My expectation is that the trial will not resume in the next few months. Continue
As always, this was a hard and frustrating week. It never gets easier being at the center of this kind of madness.