Updated: Apr 14
Statement for the Immediate Release of the Bhima Koregaon 16 (BK16)
Evidence Fabricated, Planted in Computers!
Authoritarian regimes silence their critics – scholars and activists – by outright attacks on their person, putting them in prison, and by burning their books. In India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has gone one cowardly step further in the Bhima Koregaon case (henceforth BK16). It has manufactured the evidence on the basis of which it has put sixteen academics, intellectuals and human rights defenders behind bars under the draconian anti-terrorism law, the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act). The UAPA permits the Indian government to hold citizens without bail or a trial for years, if not decades. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) claims that the ‘evidence’ of their anti-national activity (which included a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Modi and associating with a banned Left organization), are a set of letters on Rona Wilson’s computer that incriminate several others of the BK16 as well.
On 10 February 2021, the Washington Post published the findings of Arsenal Consulting, a reputed forensic firm in Boston that examined Rona Wilson’s hard drive at the request of his lawyers. Through its careful forensic examination, Arsenal Consulting was able to establish that all the letters claimed as ‘evidence’ by the Indian state were in fact planted by an external agent that had infiltrated Rona Wilson’s laptop for a period of 22 months using a commercially available malware called Netwire Remote Access Trojan (RAT). Rona Wilson is a graduate student from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, a member of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), and one of the first of the sixteen to be arrested. He has been in prison for nearly three years on the basis of the incriminating letters found on his computer that also implicate other BK16 arrestees.
The forensic report points to an obvious conspiracy against intellectuals and human rights defenders in India, to silence them and prevent them from advocating for poor and disenfranchised populations such as Adivasis displaced by mining and other privatization projects, Dalits and Muslims facing extreme violence from Hindu caste groups, and those defending the constitutional rights of political prisoners. The sixteen include four academics, three lawyers, two independent journalists, a union organizer and social activist, a poet, three musicians, and a Jesuit priest. All are human rights defenders with a strong record of writing, speaking and organizing for the rights of workers and minorities through purely constitutional means.
Following Arsenal’s chilling findings, Rona Wilson’s lawyers filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court for Mr Wilson’s release and that of the other BK16, compensation for wrongful imprisonment, and an independent investigation into the conspiracy to falsely implicate the BK16. We are deeply concerned that the court has not responded to the writ petition with the urgency it deserves, and that irrefutable evidence of innocence of the BK16 is being ignored. As we well know, justice delayed is justice denied.
We, the undersigned, are committed to the defence of intellectual freedom and the right to democratic dissent and call for the immediate release of the BK16. These scholars and activists find themselves in prison for letters they have never written. A society in which words and thoughts can be falsely attributed to people with impunity makes all intellectual work dangerous.
InSAF India (International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India)
British Secular Hindu Forum