WhatsApp, in submission to a court in San Francisco [in United States of America], admitted that an Israeli firm called NSO Group targeted around 1,400 WhatsApp users with a spyware, reported The Indian Express on Thursday. WhatsApp revealed that out of these, almost two dozen are from India and mainly comprise social activists, Dalit activists, journalists and academics. Interestingly, many of these targeted are linked to the Bhima Koregaon case.
With this revelation, reports of activists and lawyers having been alerted by WhatsApp as well as a “researcher” named John Scott-Railton of Citizen Lab, Toranto, Canada have come before the public.
Nihal Singh Rathod, a Nagpur-based lawyer who is representing the accused in Bhima Koregaon case, had reportedly received a message from Scott-Railton on October 7, inquiring whether any ‘unexpected’ mails or messages were received by him. “I told them that I had received an email from [some] address, which I was not expecting,” said Rathod.
Rupali Jadhav, who also received a WhatsApp message from the purported researcher on October 28—as well as from the “WhatsApp authorities”—is a cultural activist based in Pune and is connected with Kabir Kala Manch. She has been advised by WhatsApp to buy a new handset.
Another victim of the spyware from India is reportedly renowned academic Anand Teltumbade. He is also one of the activists linked to the Bhima Koregaon case. NewsClick tried contacting him for his comments, but could not reach.
Other names that have sprung up in the aftermath of this admission include Gadchiroli-based lawyer Jagdish Meshram and actor-activist Vira Sathidar from Maharashtra.
Interestingly, the NSO Group has said that the software has been sold to government agencies only, which rouses suspicion regarding the possible role of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and its agencies—which have been accused of targeting several activists by linking them to the Bhima Koregaon case in order to suppress the dissent.
Bhima Koregaon riots took place on January 1, 2018 following an event called Elgar Parishad in Pune. Maharashtra Police’s investigation into the matter has been deemed controversial as well as questionable. Against this backdrop, the admission by WhatsApp in the USA court is extremely crucial.
Also watch: How is Pegasus Used to Spy on Indian Activists?