Spyware only available to gevernments was used against activists of the Catalan independence movement – also during the Spanish government led by the Social Democrats and Podemos. Neither they nor the EU seem interested in investigating this.
Toni Strubell is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want
Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer
Article publicat en catalan aqui
Last week’s predictable disclosure that the mobile phones of at least 65 Catalan independentist politicians and activists had been hacked with NSO Pegasus software, has brought the Catalan issue out of the slumber it had fallen into since nine of the Catalan leaders –facing long prison sentences– were pardoned and set free last year. The revelation of this new scandal that we may associate with the way in which the Spanish authorities have dealt with the independentist “Process” – especially in the key 2017-2020 period– was made via the New Yorker by a Canadian non-profit-making organization called Citizen Lab. It has been described as “the biggest case of Pegasus invasion of mobile phones to date”. While a Citizen Lab spokesman, John Scott-Railton, announced that his organisation does not conclusively attribute operations to a specific entity, he went so far as to admit that there is “strong circumstantial evidence” suggesting a nexus with the Spanish authorities. Indeed, it cannot be overlooked that Pegasus, fabricated by Israeli company NSO, is only available to governments in their campaigns to control terrorism and organized crime. Nevertheless, the Madrid PSOE-Podemos government was quick to reject any responsibility in the case, a claim that would seem difficult to sustain bearing in mind the Spanish government’s past and present track records (Operation Catalonia, for exemple) and the huge cost involved in purchasing and implementing the Pegasus software.
However, the revelation that Catalan politicians were being spied on is neither unique, surprising, nor new. Back in 2020, The Guardian already spoke of this phenomenon when it was revealed that the ex-speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Roger Torrent, and Barcelona city councillor Ernest Maragall, had their phone infected with Pegasus. Now new victims have been found to include members of the European Parliament, leading politicians – current and past – legislators, jurists, and members of important civil society organisations (Òmnium Cultural and the Catalan National Assembly). Even family members of some of those affected were infected in some cases. As a result of this initial discovery, Toronto-based Citizen Lab undertook an ambitious plan to fully investigate the phenomenon especially in the context of the leaders of the Catalan independentist movement. The investigation carried out also revealed evidence of Homage, an device that the Organization describes as a “previously undisclosed iOS zero-click vulnerability used by NSO Group that was affective against versions prior to 13.2”. Citizen Lab, before revealing the case, shared a selection of Pegasus cases with Amnesty International’s Tech Lab which duly validated the methodology followed by the Canadian Organization giving full credibility to the results they had come up with.
The reprecussion of the case has been considerable in the International press. Especially significant is the fact that amongst those affected are four Catalan presidents, that is Artur Mas, Carles Puigdemont, Quim Torra and Pere Aragonès, as well as three MEPs. At last Tuesday’s press conference, attended by all the major leaders of the Catalan movement –both politicians and activists– special appeals were made to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, in the sense that the full-scale campaign suffered by Catalan politicians and activists must be seen as a very real threat to democracy in Europe. Amnesty International and the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament have also denounced the case. While the current Catalan government merely spoke of adopting a new attitude of mistrust with regard to the Madrid government and the need for Madrid to “come up with an explanation”, President Puigdemont spoke of his will to take the Spanish government before the courts on this issue. NSO Group, on the other hand, counterattacked saying that the accusations were false and that the company had always cooperated with justice authorities when required.
What is inevitable however, in the face of such weighty evidence, is that both the Spanish and EU authorities will have to react in some way. Although for Europe to act against defiant Hungary will always be more comfortable that to act against Spain, the international repercussion of the case has been too great to simply ignore, although there is little hope that the current EU authorities will bring to bear any significant measure to counter or persecute such abuse. Once again, and due to the null efficiency of the political front, it will probably be before the European courts that a new crisis in the Catalan issue will have to be resolved.
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