'Govt Should Come Clean': Three Press Bodies Condemn Pegasus Surveillance on Journalists

The Press Club of India, Mumbai Press Club and Indian Women’s Press Corps have all condemned the attempted and successful surveillance on journalists and others.

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New Delhi: Several journalists’ bodies have condemned the attempted and successful surveillance on phones linked to journalists, ministers and officials, among others, as revealed in reports under the Pegasus Project following investigation carried out by The Wire and several other global media organisations.

Describing it as “unprecedented” and the first time that various pillars of Indian democracy has been spied upon, the Press Club of India said:

“This is the first time in the history of this country that all pillars of our democracy — judiciary, parliamentarians, media, executives and ministers — have been spied upon. This is unprecedented and the PCI condemns unequivocally. The snooping has been done for ulterior motives,” the PCI said in a tweet.

As The Wire has reported, “The leaked data includes the numbers of top journalists at big media houses like the Hindustan Times, including executive editor Shishir Gupta, India Today, Network18, The Hindu and Indian Express.”

Also read: FAQ: On the Pegasus Project’s Digital Forensics

Two founding editors of The Wire are on this list, as is its diplomatic editor and two of its regular contributors, including Rohini Singh.

Demanding the Union government to come clean on the revelations, the PCI said, “What is disturbing is that a foreign agency, which has nothing to do with the national interest of the country, was engaged to spy on its citizens. This breeds distrust and will invite anarchy. The Govt should come out clean on this front and clarify. #PegasusProject”

The Mumbai Press Club has demanded an independent inquiry into the matter.

“We strongly condemn the spying on the phones of 40 Indian journalists, among others. Though the government has neither confirmed nor denied the spying, Pegasus software is sold only to governments. There should be an independent inquiry into this entire affair,” the Mumbai Press Club tweeted.

The Union government’s full response to questions sent to it by the Pegasus Project can be found here. In it, new IT minister Ashwini Vaishnav ironically pointed the consortium of journalists asking the questions to an RTI response from October 2019, where the Union Ministry of Home Affairs did not deny purchasing Pegasus spyware or even that it was considering purchasing Pegasus.

Also read: Government Cites Old RTI Response To Deny Pegasus Link, Says Media Didn’t Do Due Diligence

Since the MPC’s tweet, former Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Union home minister Amit Shah have separately sought to draw attention to the timing of the release of the reports, claiming similarly that efforts are afoot to specifically delay government functioning through them.

The Indian Women’s Press Corps, meanwhile, said that under no circumstances should the independence of media be compromised. It condemned the fact that journalists in India have to go through such surveillance just for doing their jobs.

“It is unfortunate that in a democracy like India, journalists have to go through something like this in the course of their work. Independent journalism is one of the most important tools to uphold the rights the Constitution grants the citizens of this country.”

Also read: Read: NSO Group’s Response to the Pegasus Project and Our Take

After reporting that the leaked list has 40 journalists who have been either spied upon or marked as potential targets, The Wire on Monday revealed that opposition politicians including Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, Abhishek Banerjee of the TMC, and election strategist Prashant Kishor’s phones were also on the list. In case of Kishore, investigation has conclusively proven surveillance.

The Pegasus Project is a collaborative investigation that involves more than 80 journalists from 17 news organisations in 10 countries coordinated by Forbidden Stories with the technical support of Amnesty International’s Security Lab. Read all our coverage here.