Morocco / Western Sahara. Activist targeted by Pegasus spyware in recent months – New evidence

A prominent human rights activist in Morocco has been the target of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware in recent months, Amnesty International can reveal.

Analysis by Amnesty International’s security lab concluded that two phones belonging to Aminatou Haidar, a Sahrawi human rights activist, were attacked and infected as late as November 2021, just months after the worldwide shocking Project Pegasus revelations.

“The fact that Aminatou Haidar was hit by the Pegasus spyware just a few months ago proves once again that companies like the NSO Group will continue to promote human rights violations until they are properly regulated,” said Danna Ingleton, Vice President of Amnesty Tech.

“This latest revelation shows that NSO Group’s human rights policy is in vain in practice. Amnesty International has produced several elements of technical analysis that testify to the abuse of Pegasus since 2019 in Morocco, as well as in a dozen countries, as part of the Project Pegasus study. Yet the NSO Group has not taken steps to prevent human rights violations caused by their tools in Morocco.

“The NSO Group must be held accountable for its role in getting Aminatou Haidar affected by its software, along with other courageous activists in Morocco and Western Sahara.”

Aminatou Haidar is a human rights activist from Western Sahara who has received several awards for his peaceful activism, including the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2008, the Civil Courage Award in 2009 and the Right Livelihood Award in 2019.

After receiving email security alerts from Apple warning her that her phones may be targeted by “state-sponsored attackers”, Aminatou Haidar contacted the Right Livelihood Foundation, who told her she was being referred to Amnesty International’s Technical Security Laboratory analysis. The security lab then confirmed the presence of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware in its devices.

This analysis showed that Aminatou Haidar’s first telephone contained traces of a Pegasus infection dating back to September 2018, and the second more recent infection traces dating from October and November 2021. Amnesty International has shared the technical analyzes of Aminatou Haidar’s telephone with researchers from the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which again confirmed the Pegasus infections in October and November 2021.

There is no doubt that civil society in Morocco and Western Sahara continues to be illegally targeted by Pegasus spyware, although Amnesty International has condemned its widespread abuse.

These attacks on human rights defenders are part of a tougher repression of peaceful disagreement in Morocco. The misuse of the NSO Group’s tools illustrates the inability of the Moroccan authorities to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

In addition, by its inaction in relation to the misuse of its tools, the NSO Group is failing in its human rights responsibility, namely not to contribute to violations of these rights, and has not respected the principle of due diligence. to limit the damage.

Amnesty International has provided the NSO Group with detailed evidence of these human rights violations on several occasions, beginning in October 2019 with the cases of Maati Monjib and Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui; then in June 2020 with the case of journalist Omar Radi; and finally in July 2021 with the revelations of Project Pegasus, including the case of the Moroccan journalist in exile Hicham Mansouri and Claude Mangin, wife of Naama Asfari, a Saharawi activist imprisoned in Morocco.

Moroccan authorities challenged the latest findings, citing a “lack of material evidence”. The NSO Group had not responded at the time of this release, but has previously refused to confirm or deny whether the Moroccan authorities are using their technology.

Since the first revelations of Project Pegasus, targets in various countries such as Palestine, El Salvador, Poland and Belgium have been revealed, highlighting the extent of abuses and violations committed via NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware.

“Spyware companies such as the NSO Group cannot rely on their own regulation. We therefore demand that a moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of spyware be implemented without delay until a regulatory framework for the protection of human rights is in place. , ”Said Danna Ingleton.

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Western Sahara is the subject of a territorial dispute between Morocco, which annexed this territory in 1975 and asserts its sovereignty over it, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and the Rio de Oro (Polisario Front), which calls for the establishment of an independent state and has established a self-proclaimed government, in exile in the refugee camps of Tindouf, in southwestern Algeria.

An agreement reached at the UN in 1991, which put an end to the clashes between Morocco and the Polisario Front, calls for a referendum so that the people of Western Sahara can exercise their right to self-determination by choosing independence or integration in Morocco. The referendum has not yet been held. In recent years, access to Western Sahara has become increasingly difficult for outside observers, while the human rights situation continues to deteriorate.

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