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Cyber-surveillance against Moroccan human rights defenders: an Israeli company in the hot seat

October 14th 2019

Two prominent Moroccan human rights defenders have been targeted using surveillance technologies developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, reveals a new report released Thursday (October 10th) by Amnesty Tech.

Maati Monjib, , an academic and activist working on issues of freedom of expression, and Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui, a human rights lawyer involved in the legal defence of protestors in a social justice movement in Hirak El-Rif that took place across 2016 and 2017. Both have received SMS containing malicious links which, if they clicked on it, secretly installed the Pegasus spyware on the device, which would have allowed the sender to take almost total control of their phone. The same technology had already been used in June 2018 to target an Amnesty International staff member and a human rights defender in Saudi Arabia. Ahmed Mansour, a world-renowned human rights defender and UAE citizen, sentenced to ten years in prison for criticizing the UAE government on social media, was also attacked by Pegasus in 2016.

For Amnesty International, it is feared that the Moroccan security services are behind this surveillance. In May 2019, Amnesty International supported legal action against the Israeli Defense Ministry to cancel the NSO Group's export license used to violate human rights. As laid out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the NSO Group and their primary investor, the UK-based private equity firm Novalpina Capital, should urgently take pro-active steps to ensure that they do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses within their global operations, and to respond to any human rights abuses when they do occur.