Herald View: Make public the evidence against Fr Stan Swamy and other accused in Bhima Koregaon case
The death in custody of Fr Stan Swamy should not come in the way of an investigation into the legality of the arrests of the 16 accused in the case
The Government has righteously, and predictably, claimed that Fr Stan Swamy was arrested in accordance with the law, that the case was before the court and that granting or not granting bail to him was up to the judiciary. The fact is that the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) substantially took away the court’s discretion in the matter. Bail was also denied to the ailing 84-year-old priest because the investigating agency, NIA, steadfastly opposed his prayers for bail. Facts now reveal that the agency had not sought the priest’s custody for interrogation even for a day after his arrest. The voluminous charge sheet in the Bhima Koregaon case running into over 10,000 pages by some accounts apparently devotes less than ten pages to the priest’s alleged role in a Maoist plot. Why then did the agency oppose bail to someone who had at best a peripheral role in the alleged plot to destabilise the Government and assassinate the Prime Minister? At his age, he was not a flight risk.
The Catholic Church had been protesting his innocence and would have happily given any undertaking that the agency could have sought. The agency’s conduct indicated that it had collected whatever evidence it could and had no further use of the priest. The fact that he was among the last of the 16 activists rounded up by Maharashtra Police and the NIA also suggest that the priest was arrested to justify the arrest of some other accused. Now that the priest is no more, it is indeed futile to discuss if he should have been released from custody. But his death has opened up a can of worms. Disclosures made by the Boston based forensic laboratory, verified by multiple security experts consulted by the Washington Post, indicate that malware were planted into the computers of several activists accused in the case. There is thus a strong likelihood of the accused including Fr Stan Swamy having been framed.
The death in custody of Fr Stan Swamy should not come in the way of an investigation into the legality of the arrests of the 16 accused in the case. It is up to the NIA to track down the attacker who planted the malware and reveal his identity to the court. People have the right to know whether the attacker is a state actor or a non-state actor. What motivated the attacker into planting the malware and how did the agencies access them while the accused claim to have been unaware?
The forensic lab in Boston has also confirmed, after examining the copies of the hard discs containing data and handed over to the lawyers of the accused by the agencies, that the malware suggesting a Maoist plot were planted between 2016 and 2017, even before the violence that broke out at Bhima-Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. While the NIA has been conspicuously silent on the claims, the courts too have shown no interest so far in pursuing this serious breach of cyber security and individual liberty. It should not be difficult to persuade the forensic experts in Boston and elsewhere, since they have been speaking freely enough to the media, to tell the court about their findings. It appears almost certain that the experts by now know the identity of the attacker but they have publicly said that it was for the Government of India to identify the attacker. It is more important than ever to learn of the wider conspiracy to frame activists in what increasingly appears to be a non-existent plot.