Mumbai: Hari Prasad, a leading electronic security expert from Hyderabad is under arrest. Police say he stole an Electronic Voting Machine from the Mumbai Collector's office.
These charges have been denied by Hari Prasad's colleagues from overseas. They say they were researching whether Indian EVMs are tamper-proof, and a source had offered them the voting machine to study.
"It appears to be a politically motivated attempt to uncover our anonymous source. The arresting officers told Hari that they were under pressure from the top and that he would be left alone if he would reveal the source's identity," said a co-researcher of Hari Prasad.
"Why did you arrest the civil society activist? This is against the ethics of the election commission. Who is involved in this? The question is who is behind this?" asked VV Rao, from the NGO VeTA.
On April 29, 2010, Prasad along with a computer scientist at the University of Michigan and Dutch technology activist had presented a paper showing how EVMs can be tampered with.
The research soon hit the blog world and was endorsed by Edward W. Felten of Princeton University who said, "The chair of the Electoral Commission (EC) has called the machines infallible. I hope the new study will cause the EC to take a more realistic approach."
Around the same time, Hari Prasad appeared on a show on TV 9's Telugu channel where he demonstrated how an EVM can be hacked.
Four months later on August 21, 2010 the Mumbai police said that the EVM on the show is the same piece that had gone missing from the Mumbai's Collector's Office.
The charges pressed against Hari Prasad are of theft and break-in.
"Based on evidence and subsequent investigation he has been arrested on August 21," said Dr. Chhering Dorje, Deputy Commissioner of Police.
What seems bizarre is that Hari Prasad's research was concluded in April, but the EVM was reported missing only in May. Now with international faces coming to Hari Prasad's defence and allegations of human rights violations being levelled, the police will be under pressure to prove that they have a watertight case.