Project Pegasus: A consortium of 16 news organisations, including The Wire, The Guardian, Washington Post, investigated a large database of leaked numbers believed to be drawn up by NSO Group clients and accessed by French media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and shared with the news organisations.
As the Pegasus spyware snooping scandal continues to rock the parliament and national politics, a phone number belonging to a Manipuri has been found in the leaked data, according to the news portal The Wire.
Delhi-based writer and academic from Manipur, Malem Ningthouja told The Wire that “some people” had already told him that his phone “must have been tracked”.
“There are also unexpected calls, noise disturbances, interruptions, etc. But I have had no scientific proof so far,” he said.
Ninthouja said, “I am a writer, have written three books, am a part of an academic journal; I get in touch with a number of people for my work. All types of people come to meet me including government officials for my opinions on various issues. Many think I am with the Manipur Students Association, Delhi (MSAD) but I am not a part of their organisational structure; sometimes I have responded to them when invited to attend programmes. Since I interact with a cross-section of people which also include pro-underground forces, the government thinks that I am with the underground groups, while those groups think I am a government stooge.”
Malem’s selection as a possible candidate for surveillance primarily happened in mid-2019, according to the leaked data.
He couldn’t think up a reason as to why he might have come under the radar particularly during that period but added, “Between 2012 and 2019, I was getting in touch with several underground groups operating in Manipur to understand their ideology for my book-writing exercise. I wanted to pose them questions, like, what is their definition of national sovereignty, what is their stage of revolution, their opinion on globalisation; what could be a solution to peace, etc. Several thematic questions were sent to them. While some underground groups responded to it, some didn’t.”
The entry of his number in the leaked data also took place when Thokchom Veewon, an advisor to MSAD, was arrested by a joint team of Delhi police and Manipur police, The Wire noted.
On February 16, 2019, Veewon was picked up from his rented house in Delhi on charge of sedition for a Facebook post against passing of the CAB in the Rajya Sabha. Veewon was at the forefront of a protest in the high security New Delhi zone against the CAB and also in demonstrations organised in the city against the BJP-led Manipur government’s decision to arrest journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem under the National Security Act in November 2018.
An alumnus of the Hindu College of Delhi, Malem was a former student leader active in the national capital.
He said, “Since 2010, I have not been active in political activism; I have a family to look after; am only involved in academic writing and social advocacy for peace and permaculture ethics to help build a sustainable ecosystem. I am confined to Delhi only because as a contemporary historian, I am interested in regularly accessing the National Archives of India.”
In the latter half of 2020, Ningthouja led an online initiative called “Rethinking War against Drugs” on Imphal-based Kanglaonline. He had invited the state chief minister N. Biren Singh, some KNO leaders, police officers among others for interviews on the state’s drug menace as part of that initiative.
“The chief minister attended the programme. The proceeding of the 14 episodes programme has been transcribed. Translation into English is in process. It will be published soon,” he told The Wire.
It may be mentioned that Malem was one of the guest commentators in the first episode of TFM’s talk show ‘Khanasi Neinasi’ on the topic — Drugs and the idea of independence.
More than 1,000 phone numbers in India were among nearly 50,000 selected worldwide from a large database of leaked numbers believed to be drawn up by NSO Group clients and accessed by the French media nonprofit Forbidden Stories and shared with 16 news organisations, including The Wire, The Guardian, Washington Post, Le Monde, and Haaretz.
The Wire said there was not enough evidence to suggest all phones on the list had been hacked, but forensic tests on some phones associated with target numbers revealed signs of Pegasus activity. The news portal has been reporting on the snooping scandal since Sunday. Names of several public figures have come up in its reports.
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