MUMBAI, India – An American forensics firm has concluded that incriminating documents against Father Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Indian Jesuit arrested in 2020 on terrorism charges who later died in prison, were planted on the priest’s computer.
Swamy had been arrested by India’s National Investigation Agency, its primary counter-terrorism unit, on charges of abetting communal violence in 2018 and also of having links to the Maoist-derived Communist Party of India.
Suffering from Parkinson’s disease at the time of his arrest, Swamy request bail on medical grounds multiple times but was consistently denied, and died behind bars in July 2021.
Both the Catholic bishops of India and the worldwide Jesuit order protested the arrest of Swamy, who had been an activist on behalf of the rights of India’s “untouchable” population and its tribal underclass for decades.
Hired by lawyers for Swamy, Arsenal Consulting, a Boston-based forensics analysis firm, says that more than 40 documents found on Swamy’s computer and cited by investigators to justify his arrest were actually planted by an unidentified cyber attacker. The documents included letters that suggested Swamy was part of a Maoist plot to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
According to the analysis, this attacker gained access to Swamy’s computer over an extended period of five years, starting from 2014 to a police raid in 2019. Researchers found the hacker had used WinSCP – a free file transfer tool for Windows – to copy over 24,000 files and folders from Swamy’s computer onto the hacker’s own server.
Arsenal Consulting also said that the unidentified hacker appeared to be the same person who had targeted activists Rona Wilson and Surendra Gadling, who were also arrested, in view of the usage of the same command and control servers and the same NetWire configurations.
Jesuit Father Frazer Mascarenhas, Swamy’s next of kin and court-appointed custodian, told Crux, “We are not surprised at the latest report regarding the computer of Fr. Stan Swamy being compromised and files planted in it … Fr. Stan had nothing to do with such correspondence, so it is only logical that such an intervention had been done by someone.”
Mascarenhas said the time span revealed by the forensic analysis suggested “deliberate long-term planning,” which he charged was driven by a desire to intimidate activists and government critics into silence.
“With no possibility of conviction since the evidence was all concocted, the human rights activists needed to be treated harshly while incarcerated merely on accusations, so that other activists and members of civil society would be deterred from continuing with their defense of the powerless,” he said.
“This is the reason why our court case is not only about clearing the good name of Fr. Stan from this accusation, but also about making an enquiry into the harsh conditions in jail which led to the deterioration in health and the eventual death of Fr. Stan while still in custody.”
In December 2021, Mascarenhas had approached the Bombay High Court seeking directions for an enquiry by a judicial magistrate to clear the Jesuit priest of the charges.
In a statement, the Jesuits of India on Tuesday thanked Arsenal Consulting for publishing the report.
“We, the Jesuits of India, continue to stand in solidarity with those who are languishing in various jails for defending the rights of the poor … and reaffirm our commitment to the poor and the marginalized and walk with them in their quest for dignity, liberty, and freedom,” the order said.
An earlier analysis by SentinelOne, a security firm, claimed to have found evidence suggesting a link between the fabricated evidence in Swamy’s case and local police in the Indian city of Pune, located in the western state of Maharashtra.