New Delhi: Human rights activists, lawyers and academicians on Thursday, December 22, called for the release of the accused persons in the Elgar Parishad case and an impartial probe into the allegations of tampering of electronic devices and fabrication of evidence of all those accused in the case.
They had gathered at the Mumbai Marathi Patrakar Sangh on Thursday, December 22, to raise their voices against the attacks on human rights defenders.
The meeting comes almost a week after a US-based digital forensics report found that incriminating evidence was ‘planted’ on the laptop of activist Stan Swamy, who was named an accused in the Elgar Parishad case and who passed away last year in prison.
According to Hindustan Times, the press conference was addressed by Father Joe Xavier, convenor of the Father Stan Swamy Legacy Committee of the Jesuits; Father Frazer Mascarenhas, former principal of St Xavier’s College; senior advocate Mihir Desai, who represented Swamy; and professor Nagarjuna G., formerly associated with the Homi Bhabha Center for Science Education, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
The forensics report by Arsenal Consulting said, “Swamy was the target of an extensive malware campaign for nearly five years, the longest known for any defendant, right up until his device was seized by police in June 2019.”
The hacker had gained full access to his computer, dropping dozens of files into a hidden folder without his knowledge, the Washington Post had reported.
According to the report, these documents, including the so-called ‘letters to Maoists’, are cited by the police as evidence against Swamy and others.
However, the report also mentioned that Swamy never accessed the documents planted on his laptop – a critical point the late activist’s friends also highlighted on Thursday.
Hindustan Times reported professor Nagarjuna as saying, “Arsenal has found no digital evidence to indicate that there was any interaction between the owner of the computer and the documents that were planted on the hard disk. Further, the 45 documents seized by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) as evidence were created in such a short period of time that it was not possible for any human being to do it.”
Senior advocate Mihir Desai said NIA’s attitude towards the findings of the report was itself suspicious.
“Firstly, if the prosecuting agency is relying solely on computer-based evidence, they have to be sure it will work, and they can’t be so confident unless they know that it is planted. More importantly, if the charge against all the arrested accused was that they were a threat to state security, how is this not a bigger threat? Are you not curious to know how documents can be planted remotely on a computer? Are you not concerned that this could happen to the prime minister or the home minister tomorrow?” he asked.
He added that either the NIA is not carrying out the investigation into the tampering and fabrication of evidence in Swamy’s computer or the investigation reveals things that they don’t want to disclose.
“The only conclusion I come to is that they may be trying to suppress the probe,” Mid-Day reported him as saying.
The NIA had arrested him on October 8, 2020. He was the 16th person to be arrested in connection with the case and charged since June 2018.
The new findings were released after Arsenal examined an electronic copy of Swamy’s computer, at the request of his lawyers, the Post had reported.
In fact, activist Rona Wilson’s laptop was also hacked by the same person, the report added.
In February, Wilson had filed a plea in the Bombay high court, seeking a probe into the alleged planting of evidence in his laptop, right before his arrest. In response to his plea, the NIA had dismissed the findings by Arsenal Consulting that damning material was planted in Wilson’s computer.
Father Xavier reminisced how Swamy – a Parkinson’s patient – lost his cool when he was denied a sipper and a straw in jail. It was given to him a month and a half after filing an application in the special NIA court.
“Stan said that there were people living worse lives than him and he did not deserve limelight over something like this,” he recalled.