The possibility of the woman complainant being surveilled means that her legal strategy too was known to the agency or individual who asked for the surveillance.

Ranjan Gogoi
news Controversy Tuesday, July 20, 2021 - 17:42

Perhaps one of the most worrying news that has surfaced from the Pegasus Project on those who were possibly targeted by Israeli spyware Pegasus, is that the phone numbers of the woman who accused former Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, and her family members, were also targeted. The Wire reported that 11 phone numbers, three of which belonged to the woman who worked as a staffer at the Supreme Court, were selected as potential targets for surveillance by an unidentified Indian agency that deals with Israel-based NSO Group, which has created Pegasus. The numbers were selected just days after she made the charge against Gogoi.

The woman was dismissed from service in December 2018, weeks after she alleged that she had rebuffed the judge's advances. The woman's husband and brother-in-law both worked for the Delhi Police at the time of her alleged sexual harassment and were suspended in January 2019, soon after her dismissal, as part of what she alleged was a vendetta against her. She recorded her allegations in a sworn affidavit on April 20, 2019, and was marked as a person of interest just days after this, an analysis of a leaked list of phone numbers accessed by the French non-profit outlet Forbidden Stories has revealed.

The Wire reported that eight other phone numbers, belonging to her husband and two of his brothers, were also marked as possible candidates for surveillance in the same week, when her allegations against the CJI were first reported by four media outlets in India in April 2019.

The Indian Express got in touch with the woman’s family after these new revelations, and a brother-in-law of the woman told the daily that neither he nor his family were aware that their phone numbers were possibly surveyed.

After the allegations surfaced, then CJI Ranjan Gogoi dismissed the charge, claiming a “larger conspiracy” against the Supreme Court, and set up a panel to probe the charges. While the “larger conspiracy” theory did not hold up and the investigation was closed for want of evidence, Ranjan Gogoi was later given a clean chit by the in-house committee that he had set up. The committee report was not made public but a small note published on the Supreme Court website said that the committee had “found no substance” in the allegations made by the woman. The woman, in January 2020, was reinstated to her old job in the Supreme Court.

Now, with the new revelations, The Wire says that her presence in the list, and the timing of her selection, suggest that the reason she and her family became persons of interest is because she went public with serious allegations against the sitting Chief Justice of India. The woman appeared before a specially constituted in-house committee in what was meant to be a confidential process. If indeed her phones were successfully compromised, this means the agency involved would have had the ability to eavesdrop on privileged conversations with her lawyers. The woman had earlier shared how she was victimised by the panel and later chose not to appear before it. She had alleged that she was blocked from having her lawyer appear during the hearings and had expressed disappointment with the findings of the panel.

Now, while the Union government has dismissed all the Pegasus reports, the NSO has said that it sells its Pegasus spyware only to "vetted governments" and not to private entities, though the company will not confirm which governments it sells its controversial product to.

With the new revelations, many lawyers, journalists and privacy experts have called for the resignation of Ranjan Gogoi, who was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the ruling BJP shortly after he retired as the Chief Justice of India. They have also called for a relook into all the judgments he delivered while in the Supreme Court. The Wire pointed out that the possibility of the woman complainant being surveilled means that her legal strategy too was known to the agency or individual who asked for the surveillance.

Many people have also pointed out that Gogoi as Chief Justice heard crucial cases which had major stakes for the ruling BJP and has also delivered many judgments that went in favour of the government.

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