Top Kashmiri leaders among potential Pegasus targets

Top Kashmiri leaders, journalists, activists among potential Pegasus targets: Report

Former CM Mehbooba Mufti and two of her family members were also found to be potential targets

Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mehbooba Mufti. Credit: PTI and AFP Photos

Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, family members of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, journalists and activists are among over 25 people from Jammu and Kashmir who are potential targets for surveillance using the controversial Israeli spyware Pegasus.

Their phone numbers were part of the leaked database accessed by the French media non-profit Forbidden Stories and shared with an international media consortium, which include The Washington Post, The Guardian and The Wire.

The Wire said the list included Delhi-based Kashmiri journalists, key separatist leaders, politicians, human rights activists and business persons.

Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz was a potential target of surveillance between 2017 and 2019 while at least four members of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani's family — including his son-in-law, journalist Iftikhar Gilani and his son, scientist Syed Naseem Geelani -- were of consistent interest between 2017 and 2019 to the Indian client of the NSO group which made Pegasus.

Another potential target were two members of former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s family members, who also worked in People’s Democratic party (PDP). "Their selection as potential targets of surveillance happened when Mufti was still chief minister of the erstwhile state and in a coalition with the BJP. In fact, Mufti’s family members were chosen for potential surveillance just months before the government collapsed as the BJP pulled out of the coalition in June 2018," according a report by The Wire.

Separatist leader Bilal Lone, who is the brother of People's Conference leader Sajjad Lone, and late activist SAR Geelani, who was acquitted in the Parliament attack case, were also in the list. Forensic analysis of Lone's phone showed that there were signs of targeting in 2019 while Geelani’s phone showed clear signs of Pegasus spyware activity between February 2018 and January 2019.

Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari’s brother Tariq Bukhari also makes an appearance in the list and was of considerable interest to the agency which added his name between 2017 and 2019, the Wire said.

The leaked database also showed that at least five Kashmiri journalists — Muzamil Jaleel of the Indian Express, Aurangzeb Naqshbandi formerly with Hindustan Times, Iftikhar Geelani formerly with DNA and Sumir Kaul of PTI and fifth journalist whose name has been withheld at request — were also targeted in the cyber surveillance programme.

Shabir Hussain, a Delhi-based political commentator from Kashmir, is also in the list, The Wire said.

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