Ground Report | New Delhi: From Geelani and Mehbooba’s families; Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and President of PDP Mehbooba Mufti, two family members of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief and Separatist leader Bilal Lone, among over 25 people from the Valley named in the seventh installment. Released by the Pegasus Project, a global media consortium that made a disclosure on people that governments allegedly sought to target using Pegasus spyware.
According to a report by the news website The Wire, which is part of the Sangh, more than 25 people from Kashmir as potential targets of surveillance between 2017 and mid-2019, apart from Delhi-based Kashmiri journalists and a prominent civil society activist was chosen. ( From Geelani and Mehbooba’s families )
The list of possible targets released on Friday included several prominent separatist leaders, politicians, activists, and journalists.
From Geelani and Mehbooba’s
At least two members of Mehbooba Mufti’s family are also on the list and their selection as potential surveillance targets coincides with the period when she was the chief minister of the then state. Mufti’s family members were placed on the list months before the J&K government collapsed in June 2018 with the BJP exiting the alliance. After this, Article 370 was abolished a year later in 2019.
Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party President Altaf Bukhari’s brother Tariq Bukhari is also on the list and is under the interest of an unknown Indian agency that added his name to the database between 2017 and 2019.
Altaf, a former PDP leader, was a minister in the PDP-BJP government, but was expelled from the party in 2019 for “anti-party activities”. After that in 2020, he started his own party, which is believed to be centrally controlled.
The target of possible surveillance was his brother Tariq, a businessman and politician who was questioned by the National Investigation Agency in April 2019 in the ‘terror funding’ case. Tariq was one of the few prominent Kashmiris to support the Centre’s decision after the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was stripped in August 2019.
The leaked database also shows that the current head of the Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was a possible target of surveillance between 2017 and 2019. Farooq is one of the prominent religious figures of the valley.
In addition, at least four members of this family, including journalist Iftikhar Geelani, his scientific son Syed Naseem Geelani, son-in-law of Kashmir’s most influential separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, were under the interest of NSO’s Indian client between 2017 and 2019.
Waqar Bhatti, a prominent human rights activist in the Valley, was also the target of possible surveillance. Bhatti believes that he was marked possibly because of his activism. Bhatti told The Wire, “I am an activist from Kashmir. The government does not like those people who actively engage in activism in Kashmir.
Five Kashmiri journalists
Data from the Pegasus Project also shows that at least five Kashmiri journalists—including Muzamil Jaleel of The Indian Express, Aurangzeb Naqshbandi, then working with Hindustan Times, Iftikhar Geelani, formerly with DNA, and Sumir Kaul of PTI was also the target of cyber-surveillance.
The name of the fifth journalist is not being published at his request. Shabbir Hussain, a political commentator from Kashmir living in Delhi, was also on the surveillance list.
Some patterns are also visible here Jaleel and Naqshbandi appear in the database together in mid-2018, while Kaul and Hussain appear in the list together in early 2019.
Kaul is the National Editor of the Press Trust of India and covers Kashmir issues for the agency while in Delhi. On being told about the surveillance, he said that he is absolutely surprised to know this.
A prominent businessman from the Valley was also under potential surveillance, so was a Delhi-based businessman who has good ties with mainstream political parties in Jammu and Kashmir. At the request of both of them, their identity is being hidden. ( From Geelani and Mehbooba’s families)
Others selected for possible surveillance include Zafar Akbar Bhat, an influential Shia cleric associated with the Mirwaiz-led Hurriyat and prominent separatist leader. Records also show that a faculty member from an agricultural science university in the area and two social workers were also selected for possible surveillance.