Attempts to gag Prof Ashok Swain continue

Outspoken academic’s electronic devices were hacked and hackers took control of his phone, email and social media accounts

Ashok Swain (photo: @profashokswain/X)
Ashok Swain (photo: @profashokswain/X)

Shalini Sahay

He thanks the security personnel of Uppsala University, where he is Professor of Peace and Conflict Research, for restoring access and control of his electronic devices, though he was advised, he says, to buy new devices on suspicion that the old ones may have been infected. 

Except his old account on X, he has also regained control of his social media accounts, after “a harrowing and embarrassing week”, when unknown hackers sent strange messages to everyone in his contact list, including colleagues and staff members of the university.

The coordinated attacks did unsettle Prof Ashok Swain, but he won’t be cowed and sounds as defiant as ever.

On his new X handle @ProfAshokSwain, he posted the following message, presumably addressing his hackers and their sniper-minders: “You may withhold my account, file cases, shadow ban it and also hack it, but you can't stop me from raising my voice in favour of democracy, secularism, and human rights and supporting the poor, oppressed and minorities. I am still alive.” His old handle on X @ashoswain has been taken over by a crypto gang.

Readers will remember that the Government of India had cancelled Swain’s OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) card in August 2023, objecting to his sharp criticism of government policies, human rights violations and atrocities on minorities. The government cited his columns, lectures, interviews and social media posts to accuse him of being inimical to India. His Twitter handle remains banned in India.

Indeed, over a hundred OCI cards, which allowed people of Indian origin abroad to visit India without a visa, have been cancelled.

Even earlier, around January 2023, he was alerted to a plot to assassinate him in Sweden. While he was not provided with all the details, he was told that Swedish police had picked up chatter related to the plot. The plotters, he was told, seemed to know where his office was in the university and about his routine. This was after he had commented sharply on the Leicester rioting in England between people of Indian and Pakistani origin.

Speaking on the phone from Sweden, Prof Swain said he had no idea about the identity of the hackers and whether they were Indians, Israelis or Russians. They could be from anywhere, especially since he has been speaking out against the Israeli genocide in Gaza and against the Zionist state. Whoever they are, he said with a chuckle, they are professionals and carried out a comprehensive hacking operation.

He has not visited India for over four years, he confides. His movements and public appearances have been restricted following death threats and 2023’s assassination plot; his public lectures have been affected and he has been declining invitations to speak from even the Oxford Union.

“It has been a harrowing and embarrassing week since 27 February and some of my contacts are still receiving strange missives from accounts over which I still have no control,” Prof Swain said.

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