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1st Jul 2022

Catalan leader slams Pegasus use: 'Perhaps I'm still spied on'

  • The leader of the Catalan government, Pere Aragonès, welcomed the establishment of a European Parliament committee on Pegasus (Photo: Press Cambrabcn)
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The leader of the Catalan government, Pere Aragonès, denounced on Thursday (19 May) the use of the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware against separatist lawmakers and MEPs during a visit to Brussels.

The so-called Catalangate affair is the latest case of political espionage with the surveillance spyware, prompting a new row between Madrid and Barcelona — and the resignation of the director of Spain's intelligence agency Paz Esteban earlier in May.

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Aragonès has also rejected putting a date on a potential meeting with Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez, arguing that certain guarantees must be met first.

"We demand maximum transparency, explanations, assumptions of responsibilities and guarantees of non-repetition," he told a press briefing in the European Parliament on Thursday.

The investigation, led by the CitizenLab research group based at the University of Toronto and published by The New Yorker magazine in mid-April, revealed that at least 65 Catalan pro-independence politicians and activists were spied on between 2017 and 2020.

Aragonès is only one of the top Catalan politicians targeted by the Pegasus spyware. But the list includes four MEPs, former regional presidents, academics and lawyers associated with the independence movement.

"If I was spied on because I defended the independence of Catalonia three years ago, and today I am still defending the independence of Catalonia — perhaps I'm still being spied on," Aragonès also said.

The Catalan leader welcomed the establishment of a European Parliament committee on Pegasus and regretted that this option was blocked in the Spanish congress by the majority of political parties.

"Talking of fundamental rights, the rule of law and democracy makes little sense if political representatives, journalists and activists are subsequently spied upon and the European Union does not react quickly and decisively," Catalan MEP Diana Riba told EUobserver.

Riba, who has herself been personally targeted with Pegasus, said that the increasing use of the Israeli-made spyware represents "the grave deterioration that rule of law" is suffering in many member states.

Other EU member states like Hungary and Poland have acknowledged that they have this spyware to spy on political opponents and journalists — prompting calls to ban such technology in the bloc.

The EU's top privacy watchdog, the European Data Protection Supervisor, argued in favour of banning the Pegasus spyware earlier in February while a number of advocacy groups have called on EU member states to impose sanctions on the NSO Group, which is behind the development of Pegasus.

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