Political crisis takes attention away from Pune cops accused of planting evidence in Bhima-Koregaon case

Political turmoil in Maharashtra has overshadowed the sensational allegation that one or more police officers in Pune fabricated evidence to implicate human rights activists in the Bhima-Koregaon case

Political crisis takes attention away from Pune cops accused of planting evidence in Bhima-Koregaon case

Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra

The Maharashtra political crisis has once again taken the focus off policemen in Pune accused of hacking into computers of several accused in the Bhima-Koregaon ‘conspiracy’ case and planting incriminating evidence.

While US forensic labs and Citizens’ Lab in Canada, commissioned by some of the defendants and the Washington Post, had reported last year about the hacking, the science and technology journal WIRED on June 16 carried it forward. It claimed to have identified the police officer in Pune who had hacked and planted the evidence.

The writer Andy Greenberg tweeted, “It’s a wild, appalling story: A group of hackers fabricated evidence on the PCs of Indian human rights activists who were then arrested for terrorism and jailed. Now researchers have found a direct link between those hackers and the police making the arrests.”

“That link, somewhat amazingly, was that of a Pune City Police official who added his own email and phone number as the recovery contacts for three of the activists’ hacked accounts, likely as a very crude way to maintain access, sometimes just months before the activists were arrested”. The identification, he admitted, was helped by an important key provided by someone in the email provider company.

The researchers then went on to identify the police officer’s photograph and found that the officer was present in some of the press briefings held after the arrest of the human rights activists.

As many as 13 of the 16 accused in the case—among them professors, lawyers, journalists and activists—have been in jail for nearly four years. They have been denied bail and their trial is a long way off. One of the accused, 84-year-old Stan Swamy, died after medical attention to him was delayed.

But neither the Union government nor the state government and agencies have shown any interest in investigating the allegations. Nor has the prosecution made any move to summon the researchers, interrogate them online or request them to depose.

When the Bhima-Koregaon accused were being rounded up in 2018, Rashmi Shukla, IPS was the Police Commissioner at Pune. She has since then been charged with illegal phone tapping of nonBJP politicians in Maharashtra. Shivaji Bodke was the Additional Commissioner. Another controversial police officer, Parambir Singh was ADG (Law & Order) at Mumbai.

The same group of police officers, who were deemed to be close to the then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, as coincidence would have it, were involved in handling several sensitive and controversial cases, including the Antilla bomb scare and the mysterious death of judge B.H. Loya. Fadnavis at the time was both chief minister and held the Home portfolio.

The human rights activists were accused of being urban naxals plotting against the State and assassination of a constitutional functionary.

It was always a mystery how or why the Pune Police arrested a former priest Stan Swamy (84) from far-away Ranchi among others. Fr Swamy had denied having any knowledge of Bhima-Koregaon, of being there or about the conspiracy. Similarly, it made little sense for Pune Police to arrest management professor Anand Teltumbde from Goa besides Rona Wilson, Hany Babu, Gautam Navlakha and Sudha Bharadwaj from Delhi.

Their computers were seized and Pune Police claimed that incriminating documents and emails proved their complicity.

If the charge of fabricating the evidence is proved, then the police officers, some of whom are clearly being protected by the Union government, would be liable to undergo prison terms.

Julio Ribeiro former Mumbai Police Commissioner, DGP Gujarat, DGP Punjab and former Indian ambassador to Romania said, “I read that a Massachusetts based digital forensic firm and companies based in the US have said that these things were planted. While they seem to have no reason to lie, I think in the interest of justice they should be questioned by the prosecution.”

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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