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Wed. Apr 24th, 2024

Amnesty International and The Washington Post jointly reported on Thursday that India’s government has once again employed Pegasus spyware to target high-profile journalists.

The Israeli firm NSO Group created Pegasus, known for its capabilities to access messages, emails, photos, eavesdrop on calls, track locations, and even use the phone’s camera. This spyware, typically sold to governments or security agencies, has been extensively documented for its use against journalists and activists in various countries, including India.

Amnesty International revealed that journalists Siddharth Varadarajan of The Wire and Anand Mangnale of The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) were subjected to the spyware on their iPhones.

According to Donncha O Cearbhaill, head of Amnesty International’s Security Lab, journalists in India are increasingly facing unlawful surveillance, adding to the already hostile environment characterized by draconian laws, smear campaigns, harassment, and intimidation.

The report highlighted the use of Pegasus in October, with the Indian government yet to respond. In 2021, New Delhi faced accusations of surveilling journalists, opposition figures, and activists using Pegasus, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political rival, Rahul Gandhi. Despite denying “illegal surveillance,” the government did not cooperate with a Supreme Court probe into the allegations.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), one of the targeted organizations, previously investigated Indian tycoon Gautam Adani’s financial dealings.

Adani faced significant financial challenges earlier in the year following allegations of accounting fraud, which he dismissed as a “smear campaign.” Journalist Anand Mangnale reported being targeted shortly after questioning Adani Group on behalf of OCCRP.

The report highlighted the concerns of state-sponsored attackers, with authorities investigating allegations of attempted phone tapping reported by opposition politicians. Ashwini Vaishnaw, the information and technology minister, expressed government concern over these complaints.

Activists argue that press freedom in India has declined during Modi’s tenure, with the country falling 21 spots to 161 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index since 2014, as reported by Reporters Without Borders. Journalists critical of the government claim to face judicial harassment and persistent online abuse.

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