NEW DELHI: Some Delhi-based Kashmiri journalists and over 25 people from the Kashmir Valley were selected as potential targets for surveillance between 2017 and mid-2019 by an yet unidentified government agency that is also believed to be a client of the Israeli company NSO Group, The Wire reported on Friday.
The leaked list that has been analysed by media partners of the Pegasus Project consortium reporting on the issue includes the numbers of key separatist leaders, politicians, human rights activists, journalists and business persons from Kashmir, the report said.
The Wire said it was able to conduct forensic analysis on the phones of two separatist leader Bilal Lone and the late S.A.R. Geelani, who worked as a lecturer in Delhi University and died in 2018.
Lone’s phone data was examined by Amnesty International’s Security Lab and even though this phone set was not the same as the one he used at the time his phone was potentially targeted as per the leaked database, forensic analysis revealed signs of Pegasus targeting, the report said.
The signs appear in 2019, and are likely the outcome of a process initiated by an India-based client of the NSO Group, it said.
Geelani’s phone showed clear signs of Pegasus spyware activity between February 2018 and January 2019, the Wire said, citing forensic analysis.
Israeli group NSO insists the leaked database accessed by French non-profit media organisation Forbidden Stories has nothing to do with it or its software Pegasus which is being used by “vetted governments”.
The Wire said that others on the leaked database include at least two members of People’s Democratic party (PDP) chief and former chief minister of J&K Mehbooba Mufti’s family.
Their selection as potential targets of surveillance happened when Mufti was still chief minister of the erstwhile state and in a coalition with the BJP, the Wire said.
Mufti’s family members were chosen for potential surveillance just months before the government collapsed as the BJP pulled out of the coalition in June 2018, it said.
J&K Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari’s brother Tariq Bukhari is also in the list which also has at least four members of Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s family, the Wire said.
The leak also shows that the current head of the Hurriyat conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was a potential target of surveillance between 2017 and 2019, according to the report.
Meanwhile, more than 200 concerned citizens endorsed the demand to end what they called “repressive surveillance” and ties with “apartheid Israel”.
“While we ask the Indian government to come clean on the findings of this investigation, we must work towards a broader global alliance that challenges such surveillance and the collusion of governments to gain access to technology built to violate human rights, like in the case of Israel,” said the statement which has been signed by cultural community members such as Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, Nayantara Sahgal, Mallika Sarabhai, TM Krishna and Anand Patwardhan, among others.
Academic community members such as Nivedita Menon, Kumkum Roy, Gyan Prakash and Apoorvanand as well as activists Henri Tiphagne, Harsh Mander and Fr.Frazer Mascarenhas were also among signatories to the statement brought out under the aegis of the India Cultural Forum.
The France-based journalism non-profit, Forbidden Stories, and international human rights advocacy group Amnesty International accessed a massive list of 50,000 numbers which are believed to have been selected as potential targets of surveillance by 10 countries.
The records were then shared with a group of 16 media houses across the world including The Wire who worked collaboratively to investigate the scope of this intended or actual surveillance over several months in an initiative termed as the Pegasus Project.
On Sunday, an international media consortium reported that over 300 verified mobile phone numbers, including of two ministers, over 40 journalists, three opposition leaders and one sitting judge besides scores of businesspersons and activists in India could have been targeted for hacking through the spyware.
The government has been denying all Opposition allegations in the matter.