Incriminating letters planted on Bhima Koregaon accused Rona Wilson’s laptop by cyber attacker: US lab

The initial accusations against several activists detained in the case rested heavily on ‘incriminating’ letters recovered from electronic devices, particularly from Wilson’s laptop

Rona Wilson (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Rona Wilson (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)

NH Web Desk

A US-based digital forensics firm that examined an electronic copy of a laptop used by activist Rona Wilson, arrested in connection with the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case on June 6, 2018 and in jail since then, at the request of his lawyers, has concluded that an attacker used malware to deposit at least 10 incriminating letters on the computer.

Arsenal Consulting, a Massachusetts-based digital forensics firm, did not identify the perpetrator of the cyberattack, as per a report carried by The Washington Post.

The most explosive allegation came from a letter that police said Wilson had written to a Maoist in which he allegedly discussed the need for guns and ammunition and urged the banned group to assassinate PM Narendra Modi.

Arsenal Consulting found that the letter - along with at least nine others - had been planted in a hidden folder on Wilson's computer by the unidentified attacker who used malware to control and spy on the laptop.

"This is one of the most serious cases involving evidence tampering that Arsenal has ever encountered," the report said, citing the "vast timespan" - nearly two years - between the time the laptop was first compromised and the moment the attacker delivered the last incriminating document.

Mark Spencer, Arsenal's president, was quoted as saying that the attack was "very organized" and "extremely dark" in intent, adding that the company has only rarely seen malware used for evidence tampering and that Wilson's case was "unique and deeply disturbing".

On Wednesday, Wilson's lawyers included the report in a petition filed in Bombay High Court urging the dismissal of the case against him.

Confirming it to National Herald, one of the lawyers representing Wilson, Susan Abraham said the courts should order the release of those incarcerated in the name of Bhima Koregaon violence. “This is a serious forensic report. The High Court must decide,” she added.

Her husband Vernon Gonsalves has been in Taloja jail in Thane since August 2018 for his alleged involvement in the Elgar Parishad case.

The lawyers had requested for the images of all the laptops, but Susan Abraham underscored that “the application is still pending in the High Court. It is a right under Section 207 of the CrPC. We are still waiting for the digital images”. Section 207 of the CrPC talks about the supply of “documents” to the accused to enable him to prepare his defense.

Jaya Roy, a spokeswoman for the National Investigation Agency, was however quoted as claiming that the forensic analysis of Wilson's laptop conducted by law enforcement did not show any evidence of malware on the device, adding that there was "substantial documentary and oral evidence" against the individuals charged in the case.

More than a dozen activists accused in the case have been put behind bars awaiting trial. They include Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy, Telugu poet Varavara Rao, professor Anand Teltumbde, activist Gautam Navlakha, Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu and human rights activist Sudha Bhardwaj among others.

The initial accusations against the activists rested heavily on incriminating letters recovered from electronic devices, particularly from Wilson's laptop.

The case against the activists has drawn criticism from rights groups and experts. A spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently urged the authorities to release the detained activists.

Earlier, UN experts called the accusations a "pretext" aimed at silencing defenders of marginalized groups.

The American Bar Association has also expressed concern about the case, and its human rights initiative helped Wilson's lawyers facilitate the review of the digital evidence.

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Published: 10 Feb 2021, 9:21 PM