India

Leak uncovers global surveillance network, weapon used against 40 Indians, many Kashmiri names on Pegasus list

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New Delhi: Israeli spyware Pegasus has been used by an unidentified agency to conduct surveillance on 40 journalists.

A number of Kashmiri journalists are also part of the surveillance program. The names include Aurangzeb Naqshbandi and Muzamil Jaleel of The Indian Express, Shabir Hussein Buchh, an independent journalist, and Iftikar Gilani, a journalist covering JK.

The list also includes two serving Cabinet ministers at the GoI, three opposition leaders, a Constitutional authority, government officials, and scientists.

According to a report by The Print, the following people were the potential targets of surveillance, some of them were successfully spied upon, according to the investigation.

The journalists include Shishir Gupta, Prashant Jha, Rahul Singh, Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, and Saikat Dutta, all associated with Hindustan Times, Vijaita Singh of The Hindu, Muzamil Jaleel, Ritika Chopra and Sushant Singh of The Indian Express, Sandeep Unnithan of India Today, Siddharth Varadarajan, Swati Chaturvedi, Devirupa Mitra, Rohini Singh and MK Venu of The Wire, Gopikrishnan of The Pioneer, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, journalist and adviser of NewsClick, Manoranjana Gupta, editor-in-chief, of Frontier TV, Shabir Hussein Buchh, independent journalist, Iftikar Gilani, journalist covering JK, Smita Sharma, IndianAhead, Prem Shankar Jha, Indian economist, Santosh Bhartiya,  a journalist and an ex-MP, Deepak Gidwani, independent journalist, Bhupinder Singh Sajjan, Punjabi journalist, and Jaspal Singh Heran, a Punjabi journalist.

The list also mentions activists, businessmen, and those from the legal fraternity. A number registered in the name of a sitting Supreme Court judge was also on the database, The Wire, a web portal which was part of the global media project involving 16 other outlets, reported late Sunday evening.

As per the report, two founding editors of The Wire are on this list, as is its diplomatic editor and two of its regular contributors, including Rohini Singh. Singh’s number appears after she filed back-to-back reports on the business affairs of home minister Amit Shah’s son, Jay Shah, and Nikhil Merchant, a businessman who is close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and while she was investigating the dealings of a prominent minister, Piyush Goyal, with businessman Ajay Piramal.

The report added that the number of former Indian Express journalist Sushant Singh appears on the list in mid-2018, at a time when he was working on an investigation into the controversial Rafale aircraft deal with France, besides other stories. Digital forensics conducted on Singh’s current phone showed signs of Pegasus infection earlier this year.

The leaked database was accessed by Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and shared with The Guardian, The Washington Post, Le Monde, The Wire, among others, as part of a collaborative investigation called the ‘Pegasus Project’.

India was among the 10 countries where the numbers were concentrated with Mexico topping the list with 15,000 numbers. A large share of the numbers was also from West Asian countries such as UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with Pakistan, France and Hungary being the other prominent countries on the list.

This is the second time that Pegasus has been linked to phone surveillance. In 2019, some WhatsApp users in India, including journalists and activists, were informed that their phones had been compromised.

The Government of India, however, dismissed allegations of any kind of surveillance on its part on specific people, saying it “has no concrete basis or truth associated with it whatsoever”.

Asserting that “India is a robust democracy that is committed to ensuring the right to privacy to all its citizens as a fundamental right”, the GoI dismissed the media report as an attempt to playing “the role of an investigator, prosecutor as well as jury”.

 

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