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India Targets High-Profile Journalists with Pegasus Spyware

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India’s government has recently targeted high-profile journalists with Pegasus spyware, a joint investigation by Amnesty International and The Washington Post revealed on Thursday. The Israeli-made software can access a phone’s messages and emails, eavesdrop on calls, track locations, and even film the owner with the camera. Amnesty found that journalists Siddharth Varadarajan of The Wire and Anand Mangnale of The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project were targeted with the spyware on their iPhones, with the latest identified case occurring in October.“Our latest findings show that increasingly, journalists in India face the threat of unlawful surveillance simply for doing their jobs, alongside other tools of repression including imprisonment under draconian laws, smear campaigns, harassment, and intimidation,” said Donncha O Cearbhaill, Head of Amnesty International’s Security Lab. India’s government did not immediately respond, but it denied similar accusations in 2021 that it used Pegasus spyware to surveil political opponents, activists, and journalists.

Pegasus Spyware: A Comprehensive Invasion of Privacy

Pegasus software is highly invasive and can be used to access a phone’s most sensitive data, including messages, emails, photos, calls, locations, and camera footage. The spyware has been linked to India’s government in multiple cases, targeting journalists and political opponents. The joint investigation by Amnesty International and The Washington Post analyzed leaked documents showing the spyware had been used against more than 1,000 Indian phone numbers.

Impact on Press Freedom in India

India’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has fallen significantly under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure, falling 21 spots to 161 out of 180 countries since he took office in 2014. Press freedom has dwindled, with several journalists arrested and India’s media facing numerous challenges. The targeting of high-profile journalists with Pegasus spyware is a concerning development for press freedom in India, as it demonstrates the government’s willingness to invade the privacy of journalists and suppress dissenting voices.

International Concerns and Accountability

The use of Pegasus spyware by India’s government has raised concerns at the international level, with states having an obligation to protect human rights by protecting people from unlawful surveillance. Despite repeated revelations, there has been a shameful lack of accountability about the use of Pegasus spyware in India, which has been used multiple times against journalists, including one who was previously a victim of an attack using the same spyware.

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