Jan 12, 2023

Catalonia : Special Rapporteurs Address Letter to Spanish Government over Pegasus Spying

Three UN Human Rights Committee Special Rapporteurs have took the Spanish government to task over its use of Pegasus spyware to hack prominent Catalan self-determination activists. The Special Rapporteurs on Minority Issues; Freedom of Expression and Opinion; and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association have all addressed the joint letter asking for clarification into the use of the spyware.

Pegasus software is a form of spyware developed by Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO, who claim it is only sold to national governments. The software allows hackers to access an individual device’s content, in stark contrast to usual (and regulated) interception of communications between two devices. The use of Pegasus software by the Spanish intelligence services appears to have been unlawful, resulting in the resignation of the head of the CNI (National Center for Intelligence).

In the letter by the Special Rapporteurs, the authors demand an “immediate, independent, transparent, impartial and effective investigation to identify and sanction those responsible for these facts” – as well as reparations and a reform of existing laws that pose barriers to said reparations. They also call for an immediate end to such acts.

The letter comes after UNPO alongside Catalan member Assemblea Nacional de Catalunya wrote a complaint to the UN over the subject of the use of Pegasus spyware. The complaint, highlighting the use of Pegasus software against prominent Assemblea members, the UNPO raised conscerns over the Spanish state’s disregard for the Catalan people’s fundamental rights that have been ceaselessly demonstrated in recent years, particularly following the 2017 Referendum on the Independence of Catalonia. The Pegasus revelations exposed by Citizen Lab had epitomized, yet again, the diminishing state of civil and political liberties in Spain. The ANC and UNPO are deeply concerned over these latest developments, and joins the UN special rapporteurs wishes to emphasize the necessity of holding governments accountable where satisfactory evidence of their unwarranted deployment of cyber-surveillance technology to surveil, intimidate, and harass human rights defenders can be attributed.

In a recent public statement, Assemblea also emphasized that the report exposes the violation of fundamental rights suffered by Catalans and thus provides an even stronger argument for self-determination and eventual independence.

Furthermore, the UNPO would like to underline that the use of Pegasus against self-determination activists highlights the vulnerability of said actors around the world. In our Tools of Repression report, UNPO demanded that more attention should be afforded to the growing phenomenon of peaceful self-determination activists suffering human rights abuses in the name of countering “sedition” or “rebellion”. Democratic rights for these activists must be maintained alongside all other political actors.