A colleague of human rights activist Stan Swamy, who was arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case in October, said on Tuesday that the jailed activist had told the National Investigation Agency at least four times that fake evidence had been planted on his computer, reported PTI.
Solomon, the director of Ranchi’s Bagaicha Social Centre where Swamy worked, made the statement at a press briefing attended by family, friends and lawyers of the 16 people who are currently in custody in the case.
The briefing was held in the wake of a forensics report by Arsenal Consulting, a United States digital forensics firm, that found key evidence against a group of activists and intellectuals, arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, was planted using a malware on a laptop seized by the police.
Solomon said Swamy had told the central agency at least on four occasions that he disowned the documents the NIA cited as incriminating. Swamy said that the documents might have been “intercalated”, Solomon told the gathering.
“Some letters by the lokmanch had been edited, words had been added or inserted,” Solomon said. “For instance, a letter started with the greeting of johar that is common in Jharkhand. But the unusual word “lal” had been added. This made Stan [Swamy] raise questions on the authenticity of the documents.”
At the event, senior advocate Mihir Desai said the Arsenal Consulting report has “punched a major hole” in the prosecution’s story as it consistently relied on electronic evidence to oppose bail pleas, seek extension of custody, and other actions.
Those present at the press conference demanded an independent inquiry into the report and that the 16 arrested be granted immediate bail.
Several activists and academics have been accused of making inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave held at Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the authorities claim triggered violence at Bhima-Koregaon war memorial the next day.
The digital forensic report
The report found that an attacker used malware to infiltrate a laptop belonging to activist Rona Wilson before his arrest and deposited at least 10 incriminating letters on his computer. The Pune Police used the letters it found on the laptop as its primary evidence in the chargesheet they filed in the Bhima Koregaon case.
Among these was a letter that the police claimed Wilson had written to a Maoist militant, discussing the need for guns and ammunition as part of an intricate Maoist conspiracy, and even urging the banned group to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The report found the letters had been planted in a hidden folder on Wilson’s laptop.
The Arsenal report said that Wilson’s laptop was compromised in June 2016, after a series of suspicious emails from someone using Telugu activist and co-accused Varavara Rao’s account. During the course of the conversation, the person using Rao’s account made multiple attempts to get Wilson to open a particular document, which was a link to download a statement from a civil liberties group.
When Wilson complied, the link deployed NetWire, a commercially available form of malicious software that allowed a hacker remote access to Wilson’s device, which can then be used to plant files on a system, the report said. Arsenal discovered records of the malware logging Wilson’s keystrokes, passwords and browsing activity.
Wilson, the first person to be arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, has moved the Bombay High Court, seeking immediate release and the formation of a Special Investigation Team to inquire into the alleged planting of fabricated documents in his computer.