Saturday, April 20, 2024

“Beyond ethically compromised”: Jenny Rowena on Pune police’s role in planting evidence on Hany Babu’s computer

Jenny Rowena, Delhi University professor and wife of the jailed professor and human rights defender Hany Babu said that the new Wired magazine report which says the Pune police planted evidence on computers of Bhima Koregaon accused including Babu, once again exposed the devious conspiracy, involving the police, in incarcerating law-abiding citizens who were doing good work in society, in order to punish them for their social interventions.

Security researchers in the United States have found a provable connection between the Pune police and a hacking campaign conducted against human rights activists Rona Wilson, Varavara Rao, and Hany Babu who have been arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case under draconian UAPA.

This is the first time that the state’s involvement has been directly established in the case. “There’s a provable connection between the individuals who arrested these folks and the individuals who planted the evidence,” Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade, a security researcher at SentinelOne told Wired magazine.

“The police behind this must have made such mistakes never imagining that it would all be exposed due to the tireless work of some organizations and individuals. This shows the extent to which our police will go in framing innocent people and how laws like UAPA work to support this,” Rowena said.

Later on in this conversation with Maktoob, Rowena encourages everyone to take these disclosures seriously as it tells a lot about police wrongdoing in the case which in fact shows there was a conspiracy to arrest these innocent people.

“Everyone must take these revelations seriously and those involved should be punished or this will be repeated with impunity, most importantly, the activists, intellectuals, and academicians like my husband, Hany Babu, who have been languishing in jail without even the charges being framed, should be immediately released,” she said to Maktoob.

More than a year ago, forensic analysts revealed that unidentified hackers fabricated evidence on the computers of at least two activists arrested in Pune, India, in 2018, both of whom have languished in jail and, along with 13 others, face draconian charges. Now, security researchers have pointed towards links between the hacking attempts on three of the accused and the Pune police department.

“This is beyond ethically compromised. It is beyond callous. So we’re trying to put as much data forward as we can in the hopes of helping these victims,” Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade said.

The report in Wired magazine stated that the security research organisation points out that three of the email accounts (Wilson, Babu, and Rao) compromised by hackers in 2018 and 2019 had a recovery email address and phone number added as a backup mechanism. It was to allow the hacker to easily regain control of the accounts if their passwords were changed.

The email address “included the full name of a police official in Pune who was closely involved in the Bhima Koregaon 16 case.”

“Security researcher Zeshan Aziz found the recovery email address and phone number tied to the Pune police official’s name in the leaked database of TrueCaller, a caller ID and call-blocking app, and found the phone number linked to his name in the leaked database of iimjobs.com, an Indian job recruitment website….,” read the report.

The report further notes: “Scott-Railton [of Citizen Lab] further found that the WhatsApp profile photo for the recovery phone number added to the hacked accounts displays a selfie photo of the police official—a man who appears to be the same officer at police press conferences and even in one news photograph taken at the arrest of Varvara Rao.”

Last year, Arsenal Consulting, a digital forensics firm working on behalf of the defendants, analyzed the contents of Rona Wilson’s laptop, along with that of another accused, human rights lawyer Surendra Gadling. Arsenal analysts found that evidence had clearly been fabricated on both machines. In Wilson’s case, a piece of malware known as NetWire had added 32 files to a folder of the computer’s hard drive, including a letter in which Wilson appeared to be conspiring with a banned Maoist group to assassinate prime minister Narendra Modi.

Mumbai-based defense lawyer representing several of the Bhima Koregaon 16, Mihir Desai, said the new report appears “very damning.”

“We’ve known things have been planted, but the police could have always said, ‘we are not involved in all this,’” says Desai to the magazine. “By showing the police did this, it would mean there was a conspiracy to arrest these people. It would show the police have acted in a vicious and deliberate manner knowing fully well this was false evidence.”

Afsana Nabeeba is a student of BA English Honours, Miranda House College, Delhi.

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