3 JNU alumni among activists in Pegasus snoop list: Report
Three former Jawaharlal Nehru University students, including jailed activist Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya who were involved in the 2016 JNU sedition row, were among those who were potentially snooped on using the Israeli spyware Pegasus, digital news outlet The Wire reported on Tuesday.
In 2016, Khalid and Bhattacharya were charged with sedition over certain anti-India slogans that were allegedly raised at an event in JNU in February that year. They were pursuing PhD from the university then and belonged to an alleged far-Left outfit, Democratic Students’ Union. Khalid is now in prison after being charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for his alleged role in the 2020 northeast Delhi communal riots.
The third ex-student is Banojyotsna Lahiri, who completed her PhD in 2015 and is friends with Khalid and Bhattacharya.
According to the list brought out by a global collaborative investigative project, which includes The Wire from India, several other activists’ numbers were also on the snooping list. These include Delhi University professor Saroj Giri; Ambedkarite activist Ashok Bharti; academic Bela Bhatia who chronicles life in the Naxalism-affected regions; railway union leader Shiv Gopal Mishra; Delhi-based labour rights activist Anjani Kumar; anti-coal mining activist Alok Shukla; Bastar-based peace activist Shubhranshu Choudhary; and Bihar-based activist Ipsa Shatakshi, the report noted. HT could not independently verify this.
Lahiri has been associated as an activist with United Against Hate, a citizens’ campaign that began in 2017 in response to mob lynchings. She said that the reports of the alleged surveillance attack have shown a pattern — these have mostly been against dissenters. “I was told that the timestamp for my name was 2017-18. I cannot get the phone checked by forensics because I no longer use the device. However, the pattern of people being surveilled upon shows that these were people whose voices were not approved of by the regime,” Lahiri said.
The UAH activist also said that the period of surveillance coincided with the time they were tracking and communicating with the families of victims of hate crimes and mob lynching. “This is scary because these families are more vulnerable than us and I was in touch with them. The government has been denying that they are behind this. If that is the case, they should find out who has done this as politicians, Supreme Court judges, and even Election Commission officials have been targeted,” she said.
Bhattacharya said he was aware of the possibility of being under surveillance as the government had been targeting dissenters. “The priority of the government is to go against those questioning it and upholding democratic values. An independent judicial inquiry is a minimum that should be done. The act of surveillance shows malafide intent of the government which goes after dissenting voices and suo motu cognisance should be taken into account for the release of all political prisoners whom the government has routinely targeted,” Bhattacharya said.