Several political leaders, separatists and journalists from Kashmir, including then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s two relatives, may have been targeted for telephone snooping between 2017 and 2019.
According to the report published by The Wire, even journalists working in Delhi but belonging to Kashmir were under surveillance using Pegasus spyware.
“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 Mehbooba was still Chief Minister of the erstwhile State and in a coalition with the BJP. In fact, 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,” The Wire reported on Friday.
However, Mehbooba said that surveillance, as a concept, for Kashmiris is not new. “People are used to having their thoughts, ideas not only intercepted but even being punished for them,” the former J&K CM said.
The Wire was able to conduct forensic analysis on the phones of two separatist leaders Bilal Lone and the late SAR Geelani, who worked as a lecturer in Delhi University and died in 2018,” said the report.
Lone’s phone data was examined by Amnesty International’s Security Lab. 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 signs appear in 2019, and are likely the outcome of a process initiated by an India-based client of the NSO Group,” said the report published by The Wire portal.
Geelani’s phone showed clear signs of Pegasus spyware activity between February 2018 and January 2019, forensic analysis showed. The days and months in which the infection was detected on his phone match with his appearance in the leaked data, the report added.
J&K Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari’s brother Tariq Bukhari also makes an appearance in the list and was of considerable interest to the agency which added his name between 2017 and 2019.
In addition, at least four members of Kashmir’s most influential separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s family - including his son-in-law, journalist Iftikhar Gilani and his son, scientist Syed Naseem Geelani - were of consistent interest to the Indian client of the NSO group between 2017 and 2019.
Waqar Bhatti, a prominent human rights activist from the Valley, was also potentially a target of surveillance. “The Pegasus Project data also shows that at least five Kashmiri journalists - including Muzamil Jaleel of the Indian Express, Aurangzeb Naqshbandi with Hindustan Times at the time, Iftikhar Geelani formerly with DNA and Sumir Kaul of PTI - were also targeted in the cyber surveillance programme. The name of the fifth journalist is being withheld at their request. Shabir Hussain, a Delhi-based political commentator from Kashmir, is also in the list,” said the report.