5th Feb 2023

Catalan spyware victims demand justice

  • 65 people supporting the Catalan independence movement were targeted with Pegasus smartphone spyware (Photo: Jordi Boixareu/ZUMA Wire/dpa)
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Victims of the widening spyware scandal in Spain are demanding justice and reparations, following revelations that journalists, lawyers, civil society and politicians had been targeted.

"We are seeking reparations and a clear commitment of the Spanish state to stop such practices against political dissidents," Elisenda Paluzie, told MEPs on Tuesday (29 November).

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Paluzie, a prominent Catalan economist and academic, had been targeted by Pegasus, an Israeli-made spyware that can take full control over a person's mobile phone.

Paluzie said the attacks happened on the first day of internal elections to the Catalan National Assembly, an independence organisation. Those elections were held on June 10, 2020.

"The attacks were designed to trigger an impulse reaction the click the links," she said. Citizen Lab, a Canadian laboratory based out of the University of Toronto, said the attack masqueraded as a Twitter update from a Catalan newspaper.

Paluzie is among the 65 known people targeted by spyware in Spain.

Of those, 63 were attacked or infected by Pegasus, while another four by Candiru, a mercenary Israeli spyware, according to Citizen Lab.

She is also among the 18 Catalan separatists that had been spied on with court approval.

"To my knowledge, this is important, I was not under police surveillance at the time, nor was I indicated in any judiciary process," she said.

Paluzie said only her 'crime' was being president of the Catalan National Assembly and that to this day she still hasn't seen any seen any warrant authoring the espionage.

"I have never received any official communication of my being investigated, nor I have been indicted in any judiciary process," she said.

Similar comments came from Elena Jiménez, who heads international affairs and advocacy at Òmnium Cultural, a volunteer-run civil society organisation.

Jiménez says she was targeted by Pegasus three times, spanning February and May 2020.

"On what grounds? Who ordered this? And I don't have an answer to any of these questions," she said.

Other Pegasus spy victims at Òmnium include journalist Marcel Mauri, and Jordi Bosch.

"What we had in common is that we were part of Jordi Cuixart's inner circle," she said.

Spain imprisoned Cuixart from October 2017 to June 2021 for his role in pro-independence demonstrations ahead of the Catalan independence referendum in 2017.

He had also been president at Òmnium.

At the time, Jiménez said she was providing confidential information to human right groups like Amnesty International and Frontline Defenders.

"They were interested in the case of Jordi Cuixart and we were providing them information," she said.

She was also in contact with the European Court of Human Rights, she said.

"Our rights to privacy to, peaceful assembly to political participation, or even to a free trial have been violated by the Spanish authorities," she said.

Prime minister Pedro Sánchez and two other government ministers were also spied on via Pegasus.

Inquiry committee under political pressure

But the vast majority of the victims are Catalan and their stories are feeding into a wider investigation by MEPs known as the Pegasus inquiry.

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld is spearheading the report. Last month, she presented a draft and demanded immediate moratorium on spyware throughout the EU.

MEPs from the different political groups now discussing it amid reports that the Pegasus inquiry has been hit by an alleged disinformation campaign, according to the Guardian newspaper.

A recent letter sent to MEPs signed by experts and victims accused two people, who were invited to the inquiry committee, of trying to discredit the spyware cases in Spain.

Spain has also so far refused to grant the inquiry committee permission to carry out a fact-finding mission in the country, said Belgian Green MEP, Saskia Bricmont.

"At the end, it is all about the political issue," she told reporters.

"We feel it, the pressure that our Spanish colleagues from the other political groups put on the hearing but also on mission to Spain," she said.

"Spain is the only country where there has been no mission and there's no political agreement to have a mission to Spain," she said.

German Cornelia Ernst, a Left MEP, said their group had gone to Spain last October to investigate Pegasus.

"We had had the possibility to speak with lawyers with victims," she said.

"But not the government. The government was not ready to discuss questions with us and this is typical," she said.

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