Key evidence against Rona Wilson and 15 other rights activists and intellectuals accused in the Bhima Koregaon case was planted using a malware on his laptop, The Washington Post has reported.
A recent forensics report by Arsenal Consulting, a US digital forensics firm has claimed that an attacker had used a malware to infiltrate the laptop belonging to Rona Wilson before he was arrested by Pune police.
The hacker had deposited as many as 10 incriminating letters on the system, says report.
The Pune Police used these letters as its primary evidence against the accused. One of the letters retrieved from Wilson’s laptop was addressed to a Maoist militant requesting them to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In the letter, Wilson reportedly also discussed the supply of guns and other ammunition.
The Arsenal Consulting report said these letters were planted on Wilson’s computer and the attacker also controlled and spied on his device with the help of a malware.
According to Arsenal, “this is one of the most serious cases involving evidence tampering” they have ever seen.
The report also said the cyber attacker compromised the contents of the laptop over almost two years.
It started back in June 2016, when Wilson received a couple of emails from a person who appeared to be a fellow activist acquainted to him. The other activist had reportedly urged him to click on a link to download a statement from a civil liberties group. However, upon being clicked, the link deployed NetWire, which gave the hacker the access to Wilson’s device. The hacker used the malware to create a hidden folder where the 10 incriminating letters were deposited. The letters, as per the digital forensics firm, were drafted using an advanced version of Microsoft Word that did not even exist on Wilson’s laptop.
Arsenal also found zero evidence of the documents or the hidden folder ever being opened by Wilson.
The report did not identify the perpetrator of the cyberattack, but it noted that Wilson was not the only victim. The same attacker deployed some of the same servers and IP addresses to target other accused in the case over a period of four years, it stated. The accused in other “high-profile Indian cases” were also targeted, the report said.
Sudeep Pasbola, a lawyer representing Wilson, told The Washington Post that the Arsenal report proved his client’s innocence and “destabilizes” the prosecution case against the activists.
A total of 16 people have been arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case so far. In 2018, as part of a massive crackdown on human rights defenders in India, 9 prominent activists– Sudha Bharadwaj, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Arun Ferreira, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Vernon Gonsalves, and Varavara Rao were arrested by the Pune Police in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon case. Two years later, the crackdown on human rights defenders continues with the arrests of Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde, Hany Babu, Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, Jyoti Jagtap, and Stan Swamy.