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Indian MPs disrupt parliament over Israeli Pegasus spyware scandal

India’s Congress Party workers carrying banners and placards shout slogans as they take part in a demonstration against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi against alleged surveillance using the Israeli Pegasus spyware, in New Delhi, India, on July 20, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Indian opposition parties have disrupted parliament and called for a probe into reports that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used Israeli-made spyware to snoop on dozens of journalists, activists, and politicians.

Members of the opposition parties, led by the main opposition Congress Party, shouted slogans against Modi’s administration and raised a ruckus in both houses of parliament for the second day running on Tuesday.

They demanded an independent probe into the spying complaints and the resignation of Interior Minister Amit Shah.

This came following revelations that dozens of Indians, including the main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, had been potential targets of snooping by Israeli-made Pegasus spyware. Congress said in a statement that the government had illegally accessed the conversations of many people by hacking cell phones with the spyware.

“It is an attack on the democratic foundations of our country,” the party said in a statement on Tuesday.

Shaktisinh Gohil, a Congress spokesman, said during a press briefing in New Delhi on Tuesday that the government should clearly say whether it used Pegasus to spy on dozens of politicians and critics who were opposed to its policies. “If yes, then the government should order a joint parliamentary committee probe to investigate the entire matter.”

Randeep Surjewala, another Congress spokesman, on Monday accused Modi of “treason” and compromising national security.

“Is spying on India’s security forces, judiciary, cabinet ministers, opposition leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, journalists and other activities, through a foreign entity’s spyware not treason and an inexcusable dismantling of national security?” Surjewala said.

Congress on Tuesday also staged demonstrations in the heart of the capital before police intervened and detained several protesters. Carrying banners, the demonstrators accused the ruling party of ordering the hacking of smartphones.

A recent report has revealed that over 1,000 Indian phone numbers were among thousands worldwide selected as possibly of interest to clients of the Tel Aviv-based NSO Group, maker of the Pegasus spyware.

Indian media reports said Modi’s main rival, Gandhi, was among dozens of Indian politicians, activists, and government critics identified as potential targets of the espionage.

The Indian Home Minister has said that the allegations were aimed to “humiliate India at the world stage” and “derail India’s development trajectory.” But the Indian government has not definitively commented on the matter.

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