Catalan Civil Society Targeted With Pegasus Spyware
The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) firmly condemns the Spanish government’s alleged use of Pegasus spyware to undermine and repress Catalan civil society. These allegations of espionage represent a disconcerting continuation of long-standing and systematic repression targeted against Catalan elected representatives, and epitomizes the Spanish government’s increasingly overt criminalisation of the country’s peaceful and democratic movements which express their support for Catalan self-determination.
A recent report by Citizens lab - a digital rights research group based at the University of Toronto, in collaboration with Catalan civil society groups, confirms at least 63 Catalans targeted or infected with Pegasus spyware. The hacking covers a spectrum of civil society in Catalonia, from academics and activists to non-governmental organizations (NGOs). One of the groups targeted by the Spanish authorities with the spyware include Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC) – members of the UNPO since 2018.
Pegasus spyware is a sophisticated surveillance tool permitting operators to read text messages (including encrypted messages), listen to voice calls, track location, examine photos and browsing history, as well as enabling remote access to the device’s microphone and camera. NSO Group, the Israeli-based company that develops and sells the surveillance technology, claims Pegasus technology is strictly sold to government clients only, and only for the purpose of helping them combat terror and crime.
The human rights abuses linked to the use of NSO Group’s highly intrusive Pegasus technology have been well documented in recent years. An array of United Nations human rights actors, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the dangers of authorities using surveillance tools from a variety of sources supposed to promote public safety in order to hack the phones and computers of people conducting legitimate journalistic activities, monitoring human rights or expressing dissent or political opposition.
The Spanish state’s deployment of Pegasus technology to a fully democratic, peaceful movement advocating for their peoples right to self-determination demonstrates the Spanish government’s increasing excessive force towards the Catalan people and their expressed political aspirations. The criminalization of dissenting opinions as it relates to the Catalan self-determination movement moreover indicates the Spanish government's total disregard of its legal obligation to protect the rights of the Catalan people and, in particular, their collective right to self-determination as enshrined in Article 1 of the UN Charter, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
The UNPO are deeply concerned about the increasing use of surveillance technology by governments around the world to target, intimidate and retaliate against human rights defenders, and in particular, movements advocating for their right to self-determination. The deployment of intrusive cybersurveillance technology risks contributing to an increasingly shrinking space for civil society and human rights work worldwide, and follows a pattern, as outlined in our Compromised Space campaign, of repressive tactics authoritarian states are willing to employ to silence activists.
UNPO calls on the international community to defend the fundamental rights of the Catalan community and victims worldwide by holding governments such as the Spanish government accountable for their deployment of surveillance technology to unlawfully and arbitrarily monitor civil society.