The Editors Guild of India has written to the probe panel instituted by the Supreme Court, asking it to inquire into the claims by the recent New York Times report on Pegasus and also investigate the alleged use of the spyware against Indian citizens.
The Guild, in a press statement, said that it has noted with the deep concern the claims made in the report that the Indian and Israeli governments “had agreed on the sale of a package of sophisticated weapons and intelligence gear worth roughly $2 billion — with Pegasus and a missile system as the centerpieces”.
“The Guild has written to the committee headed by Justice Raveendran, which was instituted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India to inquire into and investigate the use of Pegasus spyware against Indian citizens, to take cognisance of the claims made in these reports, and seek responses on affidavit from the Government of India, the CAG, as well as the Secretaries of all the possible ministries that may have been involved with claimed purchase of the spyware,” it stated.
It further added, “The claims in the NYT are in stark contrast to the stance of the Government of India, which has been and continues to be vague and non committal in its response to these extremely serious allegations that whether they purchased the spyware, and more disturbingly, if it was used against Indian citizens, including journalists and civil society members.”
The Guild also stated that the proceedings of the Committee should be kept open to public so that “there is complete transparency with respect to the witnesses being called as well as their responses”.
Earlier, in November last year, the Guild had written to the committee with suggestions and offered its assistance for the inquiry.
The NYT report has led to a heated war of words among politicians ahead of the Budget Session of the Parliament. The Pegasus issue had rocked the Monsoon Session of Parliament last year with the Opposition parties disrupting both Houses demanding a discussion on the scandal.
Citing the report, Congress said it would raise the issue in Parliament arguing that the government had “deceived” the House.
Besides the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, CPM, RJD, NCP and the Shiv Sena, too, asked the Government to come out of its “denial mode” and acknowledge its role in targeting political leaders, journalists, judges and civil society activists using the spyware.
Addressing a press conference, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said that the Modi government has been “caught lying to Parliament that they had nothing to do with Pegasus and never bought the spyware from NSO group”. He said the government has also misled the Supreme Court. “We will ensure that those guilty will be held accountable and raise this vociferously in Parliament,” he said.
Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “Modi Government bought Pegasus to spy on our primary democratic institutions, politicians and public. Government functionaries, opposition leaders, armed forces, judiciary all were targeted by these phone tappings. This is treason. The Modi Government has committed treason.”
However, Minister of State for Road Transport & Highways and Civil Aviation and former Chief of Army Staff General Vijay Kumar Singh, while responding to a tweet on the issue Saturday, tweeted: “Can you trust NYT? They are known ‘Supari [hired for a hit job] Media’.
When contacted Saturday, a senior official declined to comment on the NYT report saying that the Supreme Court was already “seized of the matter” and the Government had made a statement in Parliament.
Meanwhile, a fresh plea has been filed in the Supreme Court on the alleged use of the Israeli spyware, seeking that the court take cognisance of the NYT report.
The plea filed by advocate ML Sharma, who is one of the original petitioners in the case before the top court, said the deal was not approved by Parliament and, therefore, needs to be cancelled and money be recovered. He urged the top court to issue suitable directions for registering a criminal case and to investigate the impugned Pegasus spyware purchase deal and alleged misuse of public funds in the interest of justice.