Pegasus Project: Leaked data shows surveillance net in Elgar Parishad case

Besides those directly accused in Elgar Parishad case, nearly a dozen more numbers belonging to close relatives, friends, lawyers and colleagues of those arrested also appear to have been of interest

Representative Image
Representative Image


Leaked data has revealed a surveillance net in the Elgar Parishad case might have crossed a line, a report in The Wire said.

The families of activists figure on a leaked list of numbers that included some selected for surveillance by a client of Israel's NSO Group.

A review of the leaked database by The Wire and partner news organisations shows that at least nine numbers belonged to eight activists, lawyers and academics arrested between June 2018 and October 2020 for their supposed role in the Elgar Parishad case.

Others who are on the list, besides Wilson and Hany Babu, from the Elgar Parishad case include rights activist Vernon Gonsalves; academic and civil liberties activist Anand Teltumbde; retired professor Shoma Sen (her number is first selected in 2017); journalist and rights activist Gautam Navlakha; lawyer Arun Ferreira; and academic and activist Sudha Bharadwaj.

Sixteen activists, lawyers and academics from across India have been arrested in the case since 2018.

The France-based media non-profit, Forbidden Stories, and Amnesty International's Security Lab had access to these records, which they shared with The Wire and 15 other news organisations worldwide as part of a collaborative investigation and reporting project.

Besides those directly accused in the Elgar Parishad case, nearly a dozen more numbers belonging to close relatives, friends, lawyers and colleagues of those arrested also appear to have been of interest.

The Wire has verified the numbers and identities of those using them. Most were interrogated by the Pune police and later by the NIA between 2018 and 2020.

The leaked records also include the numbers of Telugu poet and writer Varavara Rao's daughter Pavana; lawyer Surendra Gadling's wife Minal Gadling, his associate lawyers Nihalsingh Rathod and Jagadish Meshram, one of his former clients Maruti Kurwatkar, who was charged in multiple cases under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), incarcerated for over four years and later released on bail; Bharadwaj's lawyer Shalini Gera; Teltumbde's friend Jaison Cooper, a Kerala-based rights activist; scholar of the Naxalite movement and Bastar-based lawyer Bela Bhatia; one of the oldest members of the Kabir Kala Manch cultural group Rupali Jadhav; and tribal rights activist Mahesh Raut's close associate and lawyer Lalsu Nagoti.

The list also includes as many as five family members of one of the Elgar Parishad accused.

It is unclear if the attacker had managed to gain access to their phones.

The Wire said the addition of numbers, in most cases, began mid-2018 and continued for some months.

In some cases, the phones were chosen as targets during dates which correlate with significant events in the Elgar Parishad case. For instance, the data shows that Pavana's phone appears first in the records around the time her father Varavara Rao, following a Supreme Court order, was placed under house arrest.

Eighty-year-old Rao, after spending close to 27 months in prison, was released on conditional bail in February this year.

In the cases of Bharadwaj, Gonsalves, Sen and Ferreira, the data shows that their phone numbers continued to show up in the leaked data even months after their phones were seized and they were arrested.

Among other witnesses examined in the case who also find mention on the list include tribal rights activist from Bastar Soni Sori; her nephew and journalist Lingaram Kodopi; Bharadwaj's close legal associate Ankit Grewal; lawyer, anti-caste activist and Chhattisgarh state president of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Degree Prasad Chouhan; and assistant professor at the Sri Ram College of Commerce Rakesh Ranjan.

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