The state witness in a case in which ex-Evelyn Hone College Head of Media Studies Department, Clayson Hamasaka, is facing charges of being in possession of obscene materials has told the Lusaka Magistrate Court that there was evidence that files on his (Mr. Hamasaka) laptop were accessed in his absence.
Lovemore Cheelo, who is the Forensic Computer expert from Zambia Information Communications and Technology Authority (ZICTA), also told the court that what he tendered as evidence in court was merely a preliminary report that was not conclusive and hence could not be fully relied upon by any competent court.
Appearing during cross-examinations before Lusaka Magistrate Obster Musukwa, Mr. Cheelo told the court that on 8th August 2013, he received four laptops from Zambia Police that were seized from Mr. Hamasaka’s house during the search and was told to carry-out a forensic analysis with a view to find any defamatory content to the Head of State or any other information relevant to the investigation.
Asked by Mr. Hamasaka’s lawyers Wilson Mweemba and Keith Mweemba on the state in which he received the laptops, Cheelo told the court that none of the laptops or flash disks that he received were sealed, which should have been the case.
“Ordinarily, the laptops and other gadgets should have been sealed and I should have been the one to break the seal before analysis. The sealing is the common standards that are used everywhere to make sure there is no tempering with data and files on the computer and secure the chain of custody,” Cheelo told the court.
Asked on how he was able to open Mr. Hamasaka’s laptops when they had passwords, Cheelo said it was very possible using some workstations and that the same way he was able to open the computers, anybody else could have been able to open, insert, save, or remove a file from the laptops.
Mr. Hamasaka’s laptops were seized during a search at his house on 9th July 2013, but Cheelo told the parked courtroom that according to his expert analysis, there was evidence the laptop and files in question with the alleged obscene materials were accessed on 21st July 2013 in the absence of the accused and his lawyers.
He said the last login date on the computer, possibly by the accused person Mr. Hamasaka was on 21st June 2013, on 9th July 2013 the computers were seized, but the same computer and files in question were opened and accessed on 21st July 2013, when they were not in his custody.
Cheelo said he does not know who could have accessed Mr. Hamasaka’s laptop on 21st July 2013 as they were just given to him for analysis and were not sealed as per tradition.
After being shown the receipt that showed the laptop was bought in 2008, Mr. Cheelo said it was strange that the laptop in question was indeed first used in 2008, yet the file in question with obscene materials was created in 2006.
He said it was clear someone was manipulating the dates on the laptop because it was not possible that the file with obscene materials could have been created and saved in 2006 when the computer was bought and first logged-on in 2008.
Cheelo testified that with these anomalies coupled with the fact that the laptops were not sealed, the danger of injecting or inserting incriminating data could not be ruled out.
When asked what he did after noticing all these anomalies, Mr. Cheelo said he advised the investigating team but they still insisted that he produces the same preliminary report which was later tendered in court, yet in many cases he normally does a detailed forensic report which is more reliable.
He said what was before the court was a mere preliminary report that cannot be relied upon because according to normal forensic investigations, a detailed forensic report should have been done and signed unlike the pieces of paper that were tendered as evidence.
He further told the court that according to the preliminary report he tendered, there were at least more than three valid users on the laptop and anyone user might be able to save a file in other users.
Last year, a combined team of Zambian security officers from Zambia Police, Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC), and Zambian Intelligence services raided homes of some journalists they suspected of contributing to on-line publications.
Mr. Hamasaka, whose home was also raided, was dismissed as Head of Media Studies Department from the government owned Evelyn Hone College, when opposition UPND president Hakainde Hichilema visited the institution and attempted to feature on the college radio station which Mr. Hamasaka was manager.
A week later, the PF government also dismissed Mr. Hamasaka’s wife from another government owned Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) in unexplained circumstances.
The case was adjourned to 30th January 2014 during which the arresting officer will be expected to give his closing testimony.