Moroccan activists continue to be targeted by spyware says Amnesty

A prominent Moroccan activist has been targeted by a surveillance company used exclusively by governments and law enforcement, according to an Amnesty International investigation.

The group said there was strong evidence of “network injection attacks” on journalist and activist Omar Radi’s phone linked to Israeli company NSO Group.

The claim follows a report last year from Amnesty which said two other Moroccan activists, Maati Monjib and Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui, had been targeted by the company’s spyware.

Their report shows that Radi, who is known for his investigative reporting into Moroccan politics, had been arrested by Moroccan authorities in December 2019 for publicly criticising the judicial system. Radi received a four-month suspended sentence and a fine of 500 dirhams. Amnesty reveals that it was during this time period that Radi’s phone was bugged by the same surveillance malware they had investigated in 2019.

Technology experts at Amnesty explain that the monitoring was achieved by using either of the known interception techniques: implementing a “rogue cell tower”, otherwise known as a “stingray” or “IMSI Catcher” that is able to imitate official cellular towers, or by infiltrating the mobile operator’s internal infrastructure.

“These attacks on HRDs (Human Rights Defenders) are part of an intensifying clampdown of peaceful dissent in Morocco” Amnesty said. “The continued abuse of NSO Group’s tools in the country indicates Moroccan authorities are failing to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”

NSO is also involved in an ongoing court case with WhatsApp, which claims that NSO hacked 1,400 of WhatsApp’s users, including journalists, activists and diplomatic officials.

In response to Amnesty’s allegations, NSO said, “We are reviewing the information therein and will initiate an investigation if warranted. Consistent with our human rights policy, NSO Group take seriously our responsibility to respect human rights. We are strongly committed to avoiding causing, contributing to, or being directly linked to human rights.”


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