00:18 GMT01 April 2020
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    As UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid readies the legal ground for extraditing Julian Assange to the United States, a Swedish programmer and Assange admirer, Ola Bini, is languishing in an Ecuadorian prison. An investigative journalist told Sputnik Bini is a victim of a larger crackdown on press freedoms in Ecuador.

    On Thursday, Javid signed the papers for Assange’s extradition to the United States; however, the final decision will be made in a court Friday. Assange faces 18 criminal charges in the US related to his role as WikiLeaks chief, during which time he helped former US Army analyst Chelsea Manning publish stolen classified documents proving the US government covered up war crimes by its soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Some of the charges come under the Espionage Act of 1917, which is used to prosecute spies, not journalists handling classified information. If convicted, Assange could face 175 years in a US federal prison.

    Assange is presently in the UK’s Belmarsh prison, where he’s serving a separate 50-day sentence for skipping bail in 2012. The journalist sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, claiming he feared extradition to the US if he cooperated with a sexual assault probe in Sweden at the time. His health failing, Assange has been in the prison’s medical ward and had his first extradition hearing postponed as a result.

    Radio Sputnik’s By Any Means Necessary spoke with independent journalist, writer and researcher Denis Rogatyuk, who said Javid had “rubber stamped” the extradition order.

    Rogatyuk said Assange’s situation is “serious,” since in Friday’s hearing, at which he will appear by video because of his medical incapacitation, he is facing off against a Conservative government that “is both ideologically and politically growing closer to the Trump administration every day.” He predicted that, amid the continuing turmoil of Brexit, London was using Assange as a “bargaining chip to continue improving its relationship with the United States.”

    If a no-deal Brexit were to happen this October, then Britain would have to rely on its strong trade relations with the US across the Atlantic, Rogatyuk told hosts Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon.

    Rogatyuk noted that Bini, a Swedish national, is currently being held at the El Inca Prison in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito without specific charges brought against him by prosecutors. He was arrested on April 12 - the day after Assange was seized in Ecuador’s London embassy - as he was attempting to board a plane to Japan, Sputnik reported.

    “He has been accused by the Attorney General of Ecuador of hacking and of transmitting private information and also of having professional association and collaboration together with WikiLeaks and with Julian Assange,” Rogatyuk noted.

    The journalist noted Bini, a world-renowned software developer and champion of transparency laws, had visited Assange over a dozen times while the WikiLeaks founder was holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and that he was a “big admirer of Assange.”

    "In the court, sweeping accusations of hacking were presented, but it has not been possible to say which computer systems are involved. We feel that he is accused of skills that he possesses and not of anything he has done," one of Bini’s lawyers, Toby Cadman, told the Swedish TT News Agency last Wednesday.

    "What the judge said when he was in court last was astonishing. He said that Bini cannot be released because he has not been able to determine what crime he has committed or who has been subjected to it," he said. "For us, deprivation of liberty appears to be completely unfounded."

    Rogatyuk said the move against Bini was “an attempt by the Ecuadorian government to specifically persecute any known associate of Julian Assange” because WikiLeaks had played a role in distributing - but not breaking - news about President Lenin Moreno’s corruption scandal.

    “Not only is it guilt by association, but it part of a much broader political persecution in the country. We’ve also seen the former ministers of former President Rafael Correa being exiled, imprisoned or harassed,” Rogatyuk told Sputnik. “The most famous former case we see there is former Vice President Jorge Glas, who is currently serving a six-year sentence, allegedly, for corruption. There is the former foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, who had to flee to Mexico. Also, in April this year, we of course have Rafael Correa himself, who has been living in Belgium [for] the last few years and against whom there are currently 25 criminal proceedings without any hard evidence to them.”

    “So to sum this up, the persecution of Assange and of Ola Bini is a result of them being political activists, of them believing and distributing the truth around the world and of them being the defenders of government transparency around the world,” Rogatyuk said.

    The journalist noted the censorship of dissident websites and figures, including Correa, whose personal Facebook page was deleted “allegedly on the recommendation” of a senior Facebook executive long critical of Correa’s administration, which ended in May 2017 as Moreno assumed office. A former vice president of Correa’s, Moreno began to move away from his campaign promises within months of taking office, igniting a feud with his predecessor, who previously gave Moreno his endorsement.

    Other pro-Correa websites and radio stations have faced problems with their signals or internet connectivity being cut or frustrated.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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    By Any Means Necessary, Extradition, Rafael Correa, corruption, Lenin Moreno, Ecuador, Ola Bini, Julian Assange
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