Varavara Rao’s family was spied using Israeli firm’s Pegasus, leaked data reveals

Rao's daughter Pavana was targeted around the same time when Rao was placed under house arrest, following an order by the Supreme Court, in mid-2018.

New Delhi: One of the revolutionary Telugu poet and political activist Varavara Rao’s family members has also been spied using the Israeli firm’s spyware, which tapped 300 journalists, human rights activists and others in India, a report by The Wire revealed.

A leaked database of phone numbers targeted by Pegasus spyware—the Tel Aviv-based firm’s flagship product—was accessed by The Wire and 16 other partner news organizations showed that at least nine numbers belonged to eight activists, lawyers and academics arrested between June 2018 and October 2020 for their supposed role in the Elgar Parishad case.

This includes Hany Babu, assistant professor from Delhi University, rights activist Vernon Gonsalves, academic and civil liberties activist Anand Teltumbde, retired professor Shoma Sen, journalist and rights activist Gautam Navlakha, lawyer Arun Ferreira, and academic and activist Sudha Bharadwaj, the report said.

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Dozen more numbers in the list belonged to close relatives, friends, lawyers and colleagues of those arrested in the case. Among them is P Pavana, youngest daughter of the Elgar Parishad-accused Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao.

The Wire’s investigation revealed that Pavana was targeted around the same time when Rao was placed under house arrest, following an order by the Supreme Court, in mid-2018.

He was later arrested by the Maharashtra police in November 2018 and taken to Yeravada Jail but later moved to Taloja Jail, Mumbai. He spent almost 27 months in prison before he was released on conditional bail in February this year.

In 2019 too, as many as 121 Indians have had Pegasus break into their private WhatsApp chats, in what the Indian government admitted in the Parliament. Only a list of 17 activists and journalists was made public in November 2019, of which Pavana’s name was included too.

“..Even if the individuals or organizations using these different hacking methods are found to be different, it is clear that those critical of the government or its ideology are being targeted with the consent of those in power,” columnist Bharat Bhushan had written then.

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