Jul 22, 2021 - World

Spyware scandal, newspaper raid put spotlight on press freedom in India

Modi. Photo: Chamila Karunarathne/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Indian tax authorities raided the offices of a leading Hindi-language newspaper on Thursday, in what government critics have denounced as yet another attempt to intimidate critical media outlets.

Driving the news: The raid came days after an international journalism consortium reported that Indian opposition politicians, activists and journalists were among those targeted with spyware from Israeli firm NSO.

  • Dainik Bhaskar, the newspaper, has held the government’s feet to the fire over its handling of the pandemic. The paper’s national editor told the Washington Post that the authorities harassed his journalists and seized their phones.

Meanwhile India has become a main focus of the growing NSO scandal — which relates to military-grade "Pegasus" software that was designed to track terrorists and criminals, but appears to have been used for other purposes by governments around the world.

What they're saying: Sushant Singh, one of the journalists targeted for surveillance, writes in Foreign Policy that this is “no less than India’s Watergate moment.”

  • Opposition members disrupted parliamentary proceedings on Tuesday to demand an investigation into what the Congress party called “an attack on the democratic foundations of our country.”
  • Amit Shah, the powerful Home Secretary, called the accusations “conspiracies” intended to “derail India’s development trajectory.” But the government has declined to say whether it used the Pegasus spyware.

The big picture: Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has fallen to 142nd on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index.

  • Watchdog groups accuse the ruling BJP of unleashing trolls on journalists and pressuring outlets to echo approved narratives. At least 55 journalists were arrested last year for their coverage of the pandemic, The Wire reports.
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