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Bengal panel probing Pegasus calls Rahul Gandhi, Abhishek Banerjee, Prashant Kishor to testify

Delhi Police Commissioner Rakesh Asthana, Bengal Chief Secretary H.K. Dwivedi among 31 people called to appear before panel set up by Mamata govt to probe Pegasus spying charges.

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Kolkata: Rahul Gandhi, Abhishek Banerjee, Prashant Kishor, Delhi Police Commissioner Rakesh Asthana and West Bengal Chief Secretary H.K. Dwivedi are among the 31 people who have been issued a notice to appear before the West Bengal panel conducting an inquiry into the Pegasus spying allegations, ThePrint has learned. 

Sources said three people have deposed virtually before the commission thus far, and one has flown in from New Delhi to appear in person. More notices are likely to be sent soon, as the addresses of a few alleged victims of spying are still being ascertained. The recording of statements will continue until 21 December. 

The commission has also allowed people who testify to submit their reportedly ‘infected’ devices as evidence, and cyber forensics experts will appear before the panel Friday, sources said.

On 26 July, West Bengal became the first state to order an inquiry into the reported Pegasus spying scandal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has consistently attacked the Narendra Modi-led central government over the issue, announced the formation of a commission comprising retired Supreme Court Justice Madan B. Lokur and retired Calcutta High Court chief justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya. 

The commission was tasked with inquiring into the allegations that the Israeli spyware had been used to surveil prominent people in India. On 3 August, a public notice appeared in leading newspapers across West Bengal requesting citizens to furnish any information regarding Pegasus within 30 days.

Sources said that as of 30 November 2021, the commission had sent out a total of 42 notices to alleged victims of the spyware. This includes notices to 31 separate individuals, as well as 11 reminders to some of them to depose before the commission. 


Also read: Pegasus committee must succeed, unlike other judge-led panels—black money to air pollution


Legal probe and political storm

In July, an international consortium of media organisations reported that Pegasus, a spyware developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm NSO Group, had been used to snoop on people around the world by hacking into their mobile phones. 

In India, the revelations were published by The Wire, with the names of at least 174 people who had allegedly been spied on. The list included politicians, judges, bureaucrats, journalists, activists and other prominent individuals. 

NSO Group has said that it only sold the product to “vetted governments”. The Government of India has neither confirmed nor denied reports that it had procured Pegasus. 

Several petitions were filed before the SC demanding a probe into the reports. In October, the SC formed its own independent committee to look into the allegations. 

During a political event in Kolkata in July, CM Mamata Banerjee held up a mobile phone plastered with brown tape and launched a salvo at the Centre. 

“Our phones are tapped. Pegasus is dangerous and ferocious. I cannot talk to anyone. You are paying too much money for spying. I have plastered my phone. We should also plaster the Centre, otherwise the country will be destroyed,” she had said. 

The Trinamool Congress has consistently attacked the Centre over the Pegasus allegations. Party MPs protested with toy phones outside Parliament in July and raised slogans on the floor of the house. The protests led to the suspension of six TMC MPs from the Rajya Sabha for a day. 

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)


Also read: NSO Group of Pegasus fame on US trade blacklist for ‘malicious cyber activities’


 

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