New Delhi: Separatist leader Bilal Lone, late Delhi University professor S.A.R Geelani, and two family members of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehooba Mufti are among more than 25 people from the Valley who figure in the seventh tranche of names released by the Pegasus Project, a global media consortium spearheading an expose on people that governments allegedly sought to target using the Pegasus spyware.
According to a report in news website The Wire, which is part of the consortium, more than 25 people from Kashmir were selected as potential targets of surveillance between 2017 and mid-2019, apart from Delhi-based Kashmiri journalists and a prominent civil society activist.
The Wire conducted forensic analysis on the phones of Bilal Lone and S.A.R. Geelani. Lone’s phone data was examined by Amnesty International’s Security Lab.
A number of key separatist leaders, politicians, activists, and journalists figure in the list of potential targets released Friday.
Mufti, Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s families on the list
At least two members of Mehbooba Mufti’s family also figure in the list and their selection as potential targets of surveillance coincide with the period when she was still the chief minister of the erstwhile state. Mufti’s family members were put on the list months before the J&K government collapsed with the BJP pulling out of the coalition in June 2018. This was followed by the scrapping of Article 370 a year later in 2019.
J&K Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari’s brother Tariq Bukhari also figures in the list and could possibly have been a target of the surveillance between 2017 and 2019, according to The Wire report.
Altaf, who was earlier a minister in the PDP-BJP government, was expelled from the party in 2019 for “anti-party activities” following which he launched Apni Party in 2020.
At least four members of the Valley’s most influential separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s family, including his journalist son-in-law Iftikhar Gilani and son Syed Naseem Geelani, a scientist, were also potential targets of surveillance, the report said.
The names of Hurriyat Conference leader and chief cleric of the Jama Masjid in the Valley Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Waqar Bhatti, a human rights activist from Kashmir, also find a mention in the list.
At least five Kashmiri journalists — including Muzamil Jaleel of The Indian Express, Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, who was with Hindustan Times at the time, Iftikhar Geelani, formerly with DNA, and Sumir Kaul of news agency PTI were also allegedly targeted. Shabir Hussain, a Delhi-based political commentator from Kashmir, is also on the list.
An influential Shia cleric associated with the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat and prominent separatist leader Zaffar Akbar Bhat also figure in the list.
The global consortium of media organisations, which accessed a leaked database of the numbers, has been publishing lists of names of people who were allegedly identified by governments dealing with Israel’s NSO Group, which owns Pegasus.
Numbers of around 300 Indians feature in this database.
In a series of tranches, beginning late Sunday, the consortium has been releasing names of those whose mobile devices were alleged targets of hacking. Among them are Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw, former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa, Minister of State Prahlad Singh Patel, political strategist Prashant Kishor, business tycoon Anil Ambani, and former CBI chief Alok Verma, among others.
In the first tranche of names released, Shishir Gupta and Prashant Jha of Hindustan Times, Siddharth Varadarajan, co-founder of The Wire, Swati Chaturvedi and Rohini Singh, also from The Wire, Vijaita Singh of The Hindu and Ritika Chopra of The Indian Express were among the 40 journalists listed as alleged targets.
JNU scholar Umar Khalid and activist Rona Wilson, both arrested under UAPA, also featured on this list.
Other alleged targets were French President Emmanuel Macron, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa among 14 foreign leaders.
The leaked database of numbers was accessed by Paris-based media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International and shared with Le Monde, The Guardian, Washington Post, Die Zeit, Suddeutsche Zeitung, The Wire in India and 10 other Mexican, Arab and European news organisations as part of a collaborative investigation called the ‘Pegasus Project’.