Amnesty International asks the Spanish government to clarify its involvement with the CatalanGate

Catalan president denounces a ‘serious attack on democracy and fundamental rights'

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VilaWeb / Catalan News Agency
19.04.2022 - 12:06

Amnesty International has urged the Spanish government to do a “thorough and independent” investigation regarding the use of espionage software Pegasus. “The government has to clarify either if they are a client of NSO Group or not,” a statement reads. Back in 2019, the organization had already requested information from the Defense ministry, but they rejected it as the information asked was “part of classified subjects.”

The Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, whose phone has been infected with Israel NSO Group’s software, Pegasus, has called “the massive surveillance operation” against those in favor of independence “a very serious attack on democracy and fundamental rights.” Aragonès’ phone was infected with software from an Israeli company that allows access to messages, as well as activating the camera and microphone remotely or other phone features.

Aragonès and over 60 pro-independence leaders have been infected with the software, according to a report published on Monday by the University of Toronto based group focusing on high-tech human-rights abuses, Citizen Lab, and reproduced by the American magazine The New Yorker. “We will take all the necessary steps,” Aragonès tweeted on Monday afternoon. His phone was infected while he was serving as Quim Torra’s vice president, whose phone was also attacked while he was in office.

The information published on Monday “requires transparency and the Spanish government must take full responsibility,” the current leader wrote on Twitter. “This surveillance software can only be bought and used by states. The Spanish government must give immediate explanations and get to the bottom of the matter,” he added.

The Spanish connection

The Citizen Lab has not conclusively attributed these hacking operations to a particular government. However, “a range of circumstantial evidence points to a strong nexus with one or more entities within the Spanish government,” the report reads. The investigation group also judges it “unlikely that a non-Spanish Pegasus customer would undertake such extensive targeting within Spain, using SMSes, and often impersonating Spanish authorities. Such a multi-year clandestine operation, especially against high profile individuals, has a high risk of official discovery, and would surely lead to serious diplomatic and legal repercussions for a non-Spanish government entity.”

Other Catalan leaders affected by the surveillance that Pegasus can bring to those who use it have also condemned the espionage. Exiled president Carles Puigdemont has accused the Spanish government on Twitter to spy “massively and illegally” on politicians, lawyers, and activists. “The report is conclusive,” Puigdemont tweeted on Monday. He has not been directly infected but up to 11 close associates, including his spouse, were.

On a similar note, Parliament speaker Laura Borràs tweeted that the Spanish government is chasing pro-independence leaders “by land, sea, and air.” “They kick us when we vote, they judicially harass us, they jail us, and now we learn that they also spy on us,” she added. According to the report published on Monday, her phone was infected while she was a member of the Spanish congress.

On the other hand, the Spanish government has denied any relationship with NSO’s software. According to Interior ministry sources quoted by the Catalan News Agency (ACN), “neither the ministry, the Policia Nacional, nor the Guardia Civil police has had any relationship with the NSO company, therefore, they have never hired their services,” the source said. In fact, the interior ministry had already denied any relationship with the company back in 2020 when two media outlets reported that at the time Parliament speaker Roger Torrent had been infected with Pegasus.

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