India Targets Journalists, according to the head of Amnesty International’s Security Lab, Indian journalists are increasingly facing the threat of illegal surveillance simply for performing their jobs.”
India Targets Journalists With Israel-Based Pegasus Spyware
According to a joint investigation published on Thursday by Amnesty International and The Washington Post, India’s government has once again targeted high-profile journalists with Pegasus malware.
Pegasus, developed by Israeli business NSO Group, can read a phone’s messages and emails, browse images, listen to calls, monitor locations, and even video the user using the camera.
In dozens of nations, including India, watchdogs have recorded widespread use of the spyware, which is generally exclusively supplied to governments or security organizations.
Amnesty International reported that the malware was installed on the iPhones of journalists Siddharth Varadarajan of The Wire and Anand Mangnale of The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
“Increasingly, journalists in India face the threat of unlawful surveillance simply for doing their jobs,” Donncha O Cearbhaill, head of Amnesty International’s Security Lab, stated.
This threat adds to an already hostile environment for reporters, who face “imprisonment under draconian laws, smear campaigns, harassment, and intimidation,” he says.
The Indian government did not immediately reply to the claim, which stated that the most recent example of malware use was discovered in October.
Previously disclosed surveillance leaked data revealed that Pegasus had been deployed against over 1,000 Indian phone lines. In 2021, New Delhi was accused of employing spyware to spy on journalists, opposition lawmakers, and activists.
Rahul Gandhi, the principal political adversary of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was one of the targets. Although the Supreme Court investigated the claims, the government denied engaging in “illegal surveillance” and declined to assist with the investigation; the investigation’s results are confidential.
One of the two target organizations mentioned in Thursday’s report, the OCCRP, released the results of an investigation into the financial affairs of Modi’s important economic associate, Indian tycoon Gautam Adani, in August.
Earlier this year, the US short-seller investment firm made dramatic claims of accounting fraud against Adani’s conglomerate, which the Indian company denied as a coordinated “smear campaign.” As a result, the conglomerate lost more than $100 billion in value.
Mangnale said to AFP that he was singled out “within hours” of submitting inquiries on the OCCRP’s behalf to Adani Group. “I can’t blame the Adani Group or the Government of India for it, because we don’t have the evidence yet,” he stated. “But, the chronology itself is telling.”
The Wire’s Varadarajan stated to The Washington Post that he was singled out for leading the protest against a well-known news publisher’s arrest in New Delhi.
“Attackers supported by states” Last month, local media revealed that after opposition MPs claimed to have received warnings from Apple about “state-sponsored attackers,” authorities were once more looking into their claims of attempted phone eavesdropping.
In that instance, the minister of communication and technology, Ashwini Vaishnaw, stated that the government was “concerned” about the grievances.
Activists claim that under Modi’s leadership, press freedom has declined in the largest democracy in the world. Since he assumed office in 2014, India’s ranking in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index has dropped by 21 places, to 161 out of 180 countries.
Journalists who cover the administration critically claim they are the targets of constant online abuse campaigns and court harassment.