Silencing Human Rights Defenders
The Bhima Koregaon Case
The Bhima-Koregaon or ‘BK’ case has been a long-standing account of the Indian State’s attempt to suppress dissenting voices. The case involves the arbitrary detention of 16 human rights defenders since 2018. The simple reason for their arrest was that they dared to speak and write critically about actions of the Indian government and tried to help marginalised communities. The so-called BK-16 group includes four academics, three lawyers, two independent journalists, a union organizer and social activist, a poet, three performing artists, and a Jesuit priest. All have a record of writing, speaking, and organizing for the rights of workers, minorities, Dalits and Adivasis through peaceful and constitutional means.
The majority of BK-16 are senior citizens with several comorbidities. At least seven of the arrested have contracted Covid-19 in prison, others have reported various acute infections and a rapid deterioration of health. The only available medical care in the prison is provided by traditional medicine practitioners who are ill-qualified to treat these conditions and are dispensing inappropriate medicines that are worsening the symptoms of the prisoners. One of the accused, Father Stan Swamy- 83 years old and suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, because of delayed medical aid, died in judicial custody on 5 July 2021. Presently, 13 people continue to languish in prison without trial in the case.
Most of the arrested activists and many of their family members, colleagues, and their lawyers are victims of the Pegasus and netwire spyware attack. The recent reports by the reputed Boston-based IT forensic investigation firm Arsenal Consulting revealed that all the so called incriminating “evidence” used to justify the arrest of several of the BK-16 was remotely planted by an external agent using malware called Netwire Remote Access Trojan (RAT). This was done by analysing cloned copies of the hard disks of the arrested lawyer Surendra Gadling and activist Rona Wilson.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) continued to interrogate more people in the context of this case – activists, writers, journalists from around the country have been called by the NIA.