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Amnesty Int'l Calls on Bahrain to Cease Use of surveillance Technologies

2022-02-23 - 8:06 p

Bahrain Mirror: A new investigation has revealed how NSO Group's notorious Pegasus spyware was used to infect the devices of three activists in Bahrain, once again demonstrating the grave threat which the spyware poses to critics of repressive governments, Amnesty International said.

The targeting of the three - a lawyer, a mental health counsellor and an online journalist - was uncovered by digital rights organization Red Line 4 Gulf, with technical support from Amnesty International and the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab.

The Pegasus Project has previously identified Bahrain as a potential client of NSO Group, with hundreds of Bahraini phone numbers included on a leaked list of 50,000 potential Pegasus targets.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said:  "Bahraini authorities have pursued their crackdown on dissent in recent years, tightening their monitoring of digital media, which was the only space left for open discussion after the government outlawed the legal opposition groups. This chilling breach of the right to privacy comes in a context of harassment against human rights defenders, journalists, opposition leaders, and lawyers."

Amnesty called on the Bahraini authorities to immediately cease their use of surveillance technologies, and for NSO and other spyware exporters to cease supplying states with this dangerous software until an international regulatory framework compliant with human rights obligations is put in place.

Mohammed Al-Tajer was a target for this surveillance. Al-Tajer is a lawyer who has represented the families of two victims who died due to torture by Bahraini security forces in 2011. Forensic analysis by Amnesty International and Citizen Lab showed that Mohamed's phone was infected with Pegasus software in September 2021.

The second target, Sharifa Swar, is a mental health counsellor who has published allegations on her Instagram account that the Ministry of Health is complicit in drug trafficking.

Forensic analysis of her phone showed Pegasus infection from June 2021. She left Bahrain for the UK in December 2021 and has applied for asylum there.

The third target is an online journalist who requested anonymity due to fear of government reprisal. They are well known in Bahrain for covering news about the uprising in Bahrain in 2011, and about ongoing protests. The investigation found that the journalist's phone was infected in September 2021.

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