General: Gulf Centre for Human Rights files complaint in France against NSO Group over use of Pegasus spyware

29.07.21

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) filed a complaint in France on 28 July 2021 against the Israeli software company NSO Group, which is responsible for harm caused to human rights defenders in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and beyond. Some of those human rights defenders (including journalists, bloggers and Internet activists) were known already to have been targeted by Pegasus, and others have newly been revealed by the Pegasus Project, an investigation by Amnesty International and Forbidden Stories.

Human rights lawyers William Bourdon and Vincent Brengarth said after the submission of the case to the French Public Prosecutor, "It's essential, throughout the Arab world, to speak out for the great journalists and human rights activists who have been spied on, and bring perpetrators of these violations to justice."

The complaint notes, "These revelations also come at a time when press freedom is threatened across the world, particularly in a context of intensifying crises due to the Covid-19 pandemic." The sale of Pegasus to repressive governments by NSO Group "undermine[s] freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the secrecy of sources."

Those targeted by NSO Group’s Pegasus software include Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights defender currently serving a ten-year sentence in Al-Sadr Prison in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who is a long-time member of the GCHR Advisory Board. He was known to have been targeted in 2016 prior to his arrest in March 2017.

The complaint mentions Mansoor as well as two other human rights defenders not previously known to have been targeted, Emirati woman human rights defender Alaa Al-Siddiq, an Emirati activist and the executive director of ALQST for Human Rights, who was killed in a traffic accident in June 2021, and Saudi human rights defender Yahya Al-Assiri, founder of ALQST. Both Al-Siddiq and Assiri relocated to the UK to flee persecution, and were targeted due to their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities off and online. They have also both been involved in projects and activities with GCHR.

The previous week, two other complaints were filed in France against NSO Group, one by the newspaper Médiapart. Another filed by Bourdon and Brengarth on behalf of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in addition to two journalists with French and Moroccan dual nationality, Omar Brouksy and Maati Monjib.

In a joint action led by the MENA Surveillance Coalition, GCHR, Access Now and others protested "the scandalous targeting of hundreds of journalists and activists in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Algeria, Bahrain, UAE, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt - many who have long been the subject of surveillance, harassment, arrest, torture and assassination." The latest revelations "refute the repeated groundless claims made by the NSO Group that its spyware is exclusively used to deter crime and terrorism," says the joint action.