Report finds Fr Stan was jailed and died because of documents planted on his computer
Arsenal Consulting found 44 documents planted via malware, which India’s National investigation agency used as “evidence” of terrorism against the Jesuit who died at 84 in July 2021 after many months in prison. His confrere, Fr Mascarenhas, told AsiaNews that the hacking began in 2014, soon after current Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office for the first time.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Arsenal Consulting, a Boston-based forensic firm specialising in cybercrimes, found that documents purported to show electronic correspondence between Fr Stan Swamy SJ and Maoist guerrillas were planted via malware.
The clergyman, who was known for his long commitment to tribal people and their rights in the State of Jharkhand, spent almost nine months in prison before he died at the age of 84 in a Mumbai hospital on 5 July 2021 from COVID-19, which he contracted in detention.
Fr Swamy, along with 15 other jailed defendants, was on trial for instigating violence during a protest by Dalits on 1 January 2018 in a village in Maharashtra. The defendants say that Hindu nationalists provoked the clashes.
Defence lawyers involved in the Bhima Koregaon (BK16) case hired Arsenal Consulting, which found that someone had hacked into the priest’s computer, planted 44 documents, including the so-called Maoist letters, starting in 2014 until it was seized by the authorities during a raid in the Jesuit’s home in 2019.
On the basis of those documents, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) charged the clergyman in October 2020 and held him at the Taloja prison in Mumbai.
After making several requests for release, all turned down, Fr Swamy, who was already suffering from Parkinson's at the time of arrest, was eventually moved to a hospital in Mumbai, but by then his health was irrevocably compromised.
Arsenal Consulting found that whoever hacked Fr Swamy's computer used WinSCP, a free and open-source file transfer tool for Microsoft Windows operating system to copy more than 24,000 files and folders to its server.
While the Boston-based forensic firm could not trace the identity of the hacker, it found that the same user targeted the computers of Wilson and Gandling, two other people arrested in connection with the BK16 case. The command and control servers and NetWire configurations are the same in all three hacking operations.
Arsenal Consulting’s report, which sounds like a serious indictment of the National Investigation Agency, has renewed media interest in the case.
Fr Frazer Mascarenhas SJ, a friend of Fr Swamy appointed by a court after his death as the custodian of the case, now wants his fellow Jesuit to be completely clearly even after his death.
“We are not surprised at the latest report regarding the computer of Fr Stan Swamy being compromised and files planted in it,” Fr Mascarenhas told AsiaNews.
“Fr Stan had nothing to do with such correspondence so it is only logical that such an intervention had been done by someone. What is surprising is that this happened within a few months of the change of government at the Centre and in Maharashtra, indicating deliberate long-term planning involved.”
In other words, the hacking allegedly began in 2014, a few months after the change of government in New Delhi when current Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected for the first time.
“What the Arsenal Report also helps us to understand is why the BK16, especially 83-year-old Fr. Stan, were treated in such an inhuman way in jail.
“With no possibility of conviction since the evidence was all concocted, the human rights activists needed to be treated harshly while incarcerated [. . .], so that other activists and members of civil society would be deterred from continuing with their defence of the powerless.
“This is the reason why our court case is not only about clearing the good name of Fr Stan from this accusation but also about making an enquiry into the harsh conditions in jail which led to the deterioration of Fr Stan’s health and eventual death”.