More than 500 citizens from various walks of life on Thursday addressed an open letter to Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana seeking the immediate intervention of the Supreme Court to demand answers from the Centre on the Pegasus controversy.
The letter has asked the following questions:
Did any Indian entity purchase Pegasus, the Israeli spyware that only the government or government-linked agencies can buy?
If so, which entity bought the software? How was it paid for?
If it was indeed purchased, how were the targets for hacking chosen and what use was made of the information so gained?
What were the admissible justifications for such targeting, and before which constitutional authority were they presented?
Which constitutional authority oversaw or reviewed the criminal violation of the privacy of so many individuals, including journalists, politicians, lawyers, human rights activists and academics (and the SC staffer and her family members), so that they came to be on the list of Pegasus targets?
.The signatories, who include some renowned rights defenders, reposed faith in a recent statement by Justice Ramana that people know that “when things go wrong, the judiciary will stand by them”
The joint letter said the alleged snooping on judges, political leaders, journalists, activists and others with the help of the Israeli spyware was a serious assault on citizens’ fundamental right to privacy, life and liberty. The letter also asked several questions.
“The Supreme Court has the power and duty to ask these questions, and it must speak for us — just as you recently assured us while speaking at an event in mid-July, ‘People are confident that they will get relief and justice from the judiciary. They know that when things go wrong, the judiciary will stand by them. The Indian Supreme Court is the guardian of the largest democracy’,” the open letter said.
“We hope that your office will lose no time in taking notice of this matter, and seeking time-bound answers to protect our rights and freedoms, its own credibility as an institution and in defence of our Constitution,” the signatories added.
“The Pegasus project and information in public domain raises concerns for the integrity of constitutional authorities including the independence of the Supreme Court.
“Human rights activists have repeatedly asserted that such hacking as well as other kinds of abuse of office has resulted in malicious prosecution, wrongful imprisonment, custodial torture, and custodial death of political prisoners,” the letter said.
The signatories added: “This letter is therefore both an assessment that things have gone very wrong indeed as well as an appeal to the judiciary for meaningful reassurances from the Supreme Court that the promises to citizens of the rule of law, justice, equal rights, and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution still guide Indian democracy.”
The letter urged the Supreme Court to declare a moratorium on the export, sale, transfer and use of Pegasus in India and expressed shock that the military-grade spyware, sold only to governments for counter-terrorism measures, had been used to target and carry out surveillance also on women students, academics, human rights defenders, lawyers and victims of sexual violence.
The letter expressed anguish at the findings of the Pegasus Project that a Supreme Court employee and her family had allegedly been put on the list of potential targets for surveillance after she had accused the then Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, of sexual harassment and victimisation.
The signatories requested the Supreme Court to adopt a gender-just sexual harassment policy and a data protection and privacy framework that would shield people from such cyber warfare and safeguard the independence of the judiciary.
It was submitted that concerns on gender equality and human rights were inextricably linked to the assurance of the right to privacy and protection from surveillance.
“For women, the Pegasus scandal is deeply concerning, for speaking out against the state and men in positions of state power has meant that their lives are wrecked by such surveillance permanently,” the letter said.
The signatories include crusaders for democratic freedom Aruna Roy and Anjali Bhardwaj; human rights activists Kavita Srivastava, Teesta Setalvad and Harsh Mander; lawyers Vrinda Grover and Kalpana Kannabiran; scholars Jhuma Sen, Aparna Chandra and Pratiksha Baxi; academics and scientists Zoya Hasan, Niraja Gopal Jayal, Utsa Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh, Rosemary Dzivuchu, Romila Thapar, Sukanta Chaudhuri and Ram Ramaswamy; writers Arundhati Roy, V. Geetha, Githa Hariharan and Amit Chaudhuri; musicians and artistes T.M. Krishna, Pushpamala N, Prem Chandavarkar and Vivian Sundaram; politicians Kavita Krishnan and Manoj Jha; and journalists Anuradha Bhasin, Patricia Mukhim and John Dayal.
The signatories also include students and research scholars; retired government officials; retired members of the armed forces; entrepreneurs; RTI, human rights and women’s rights activists; health professionals and members of social organisations.