Advocate Nihal Singh Rathod, who has represented some activists accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, wrote to the Supreme Court saying he suspected that his phone was hacked using Pegasus spyware, India Today reported on Monday.

Pegasus is a military-grade spyware made by Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group Technologies, which is only sold to “vetted governments”. There are allegations that the Centre used Pegasus to spy on journalists, political leaders and human rights activists in India.

On January 2, the Supreme Court had asked citizens, who suspected their phones were targeted by the spyware, to write to its panel formed to investigate the allegations. The committee also asked for the citizens’ phones for scrutiny along with proof of hacking.

Following the court’s notice, Rathod through an email told the court that the WhatsApp application on his phone was hacked using Pegasus, India Today reported.

“I was officially informed by WhatsApp that my phone was compromised by use of the spyware” he wrote. “Same was communicated to me through a WhatsApp message sent by WhatsApp itself. I have retained the communication.”

He also said that his colleagues, who have represented the activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, were informed by Canada’s Citizen Lab – which studies internet security – of Pegasus on their phones.

Rathod agreed to give his phone to the court for examination.

The lawyer has represented activists Surendra Gadling, Sudhir Dhawale, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Ramesh Raichor and Sagar Gorkhe who are accused in the Bhima Koregaon case. It pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in January 2018. The activists were among the 16 people arrested for plotting the violence.

The surveillance allegations

The list of people who allegedly have been spied on in India through Pegasus include Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, former Election Commissioner of India Ashok Lavasa, Union ministers Ashwini Vaishnaw and Prahlad Singh Patel, industrialist Anil Ambani, former Central Bureau of Investigation Director Alok Verma and many others.

Responding to the allegations, Vaishnaw, the Union information technology minister, had told Parliament on July 19 that illegal surveillance was not possible in India.

In August, the Ministry of Defence had told the Rajya Sabha that it has “not had any transaction with NSO Group Technologies”.