WASHINGTON — Human rights and press freedom groups have expressed outrage over revelations that 180 journalists around the world were targeted for surveillance by military-grade Israeli spyware.
Private Israeli company NSO Group sold its Pegasus surveillance software to governments, some of whom used it to target journalists and human rights activists. The software was also used against government leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron has called for an investigation and Israel says it is appointing a task force to investigate. The NSO says the spyware is intended to help catch criminals and terrorists.
However, an international investigation launched by Paris-based Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International, known as the Pegasus Project, found that spyware was used by a group of 10 countries to target journalists and activists, sneaking into their cell phones. and has even been taken over. their phone cameras.
“You have Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Mexico, Morocco, all those countries are known to have some behavior against journalists, against human rights defenders. They are tracking them. In Mexico, we see a journalist’s phone number on the list and two months later he was killed,” Forbidden Stories’ Laurent Richard told VOA. “We also have evidence that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered right now.” Later Jamal Khashoggi’s fiance was monitored by that software.”
One of the journalists targeted in Rwanda worked for the VOA. A journalist targeted by Azerbaijan, Meydan TV’s Sevink Vakifkizi, told VOA that his privacy had been destroyed.
“From now on, you know that wherever you are, someone is with you, watching you, watching you, recording your conversations, determining your whereabouts,” Waqifkizi said. “Wherever you go or do something, you are in control of someone, and they can see and record everything about you, whether you are sleeping, standing, going to the kitchen, or Even going to the bathroom.”
Azerbaijani activist and blogger Bakhtiyar Hajiyev has been imprisoned and beaten in his home country for evading military service. The Pegasus investigation confirmed that his phone number was on the list of targets. He told the VOA on Wednesday that he was constantly being threatened.
“Well, I can’t remember a day or a week without threats. These threats appear in different forms, cyber attacks, blackmailing or smear campaigns,” Hajiyev said. “And literally even today, minutes before this interview, law enforcement agencies informed and warned me that if I do not stop criticizing the Azerbaijan government, they will launch a new smear campaign against me to hurt my reputation. Will start.”
In a statement on Wednesday, the US Agency for Global Media said it is outraged by reports that more than 180 journalists – including some from VOA and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – are targets of sophisticated spyware.
“It is unfair to target the private conversations of journalists in any way,” said Kelu Chao, acting CEO of USAGM. “This abuse must stop, and the safety of journalists must be protected.”