Bahrain: Surveillance of Bahraini human rights defenders, journalists and activists spurs urgent need for action

25.08.21

Following news of surveillance of nine Bahraini human rights defenders, activists, a blogger and a photojournalist, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) renews calls for an immediate halt to the use, sale and transfer of surveillance technology to autocratic oppressive governments across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). GCHR is concerned about the impact of this persecution on their well-being and safety, as well as their ability to work.

In a new report, From Pearl to Pegasus, Bahraini Government Hacks Activists with NSO Group Zero-Click iPhone Exploits, Citizen Lab and Red Line for Gulf identified nine Bahrainis, including three unnamed members of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), four unnamed political activists, photojournalist Moosa Abd-Ali (also known as Moosa Mohammed, photo on the left) and blogger Yusuf Al-Jamri (photo on the right). Their iPhones were hacked with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware between June 2020 and February 2021.

Abd-Ali and Al-Jamri live in exile in the United Kingdom. "When I fled torture and persecution in Bahrain, I thought I would find safety in London, but have continued to face surveillance and physical attacks by Gulf regimes," said Abd-Ali.

The report notes that "Al-Jamri sued FinFisher, another spyware company, for supplying the Bahraini government with spyware that was used to hack his personal computer in 2011."

The report reveals, "Some of the activists were hacked using two zero-click iMessage exploits: the 2020 KISMET exploit and a 2021 exploit that we call FORCEDENTRY," and at least the equipment of four activists were hacked by a Pegasus operator that the researchers "attribute with high confidence to the government of Bahrain, a well-known abuser of spyware."

The news follows joint appeals by NGOs including members of the MENA Surveillance Coalition such a founders GCHR and Access Now, along with Red Line for Gulf. In a joint statement following the revelations of the Pegasus Project, 45 NGOs made recommendations urging governments everywhere to enforce a moratorium on surveillance technology, and to "revoke all export licenses of surveillance technology and business ties to non-democratic states in the MENA region" until a clear human rights regulatory framework is established.