IJU expresses concern over surveillance of journalists

NEW DELHI, 20 Jul: The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) has expressed grave concern over the surveillance of at least 40 journalists, among 300 others, including opposition leaders, ministers, constitutional authorities and activists, through hacking of their phones by Israeli Pegasus spyware.

“Snooping on journalists is not just a breach of their right to privacy like any other citizen, but worse, seriously compromises their sources, amounting to stifling independent and investigative journalism,” said the union.

It demanded that the government come clean on the issue, order a judicial probe and refrain from yet another form of intimidation of journalists, especially those critical of its governance.

Stressing that free and independent media is crucial to the functioning of a democracy, the IJU said the government trying to wash its hands off the snooping scandal by suggesting that the Pegasus report was to ‘malign the Indian democracy’ was far-fetched and unacceptable. “More so, given that the NSO claims it sells exclusively to vetted government clients,” it said.

The data analyzed by The Wire as part of an international collaborative investigation titled ‘Pegasus Project’, shows that most of those targeted were between 2018 and 2019, ie, in the run-up to the general elections 2019, and forensic tests confirmed that a number of potential victims had indeed been spied upon by unidentified sources via the Pegasus app.

In a statement, IJU president Geetartha Pathak and secretary-general Sabina Inderjit said that the union in November 2019 had expressed serious concern when reports emerged that WhatsApp revealed that it had informed several Indian users, including journalists, that they had been targeted by the Israeli spyware in a hacking spree. Then, too, the authorities had denied any involvement.

“However, now it appears the snooping operation was far and wide and the government’s resolve to harass and intimidate journalists would have far-reaching consequences for the fourth estate, and in turn India’s democratic society,” the said.

Given that the monsoon session of Parliament is on, the IJU said the opposition must ensure that its demand for a JPC into the scandal is instituted and the government made accountable.