Phone hacking: Muslim activists sue UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israeli tech company

Anas Altikriti, Mohammed Kozbar and Yahya Assiri

Three Muslim activists have started legal proceedings against the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the Israeli technology company NSO after their phones were allegedly hacked using the Pegasus software.

The claimants are Anas Altikriti, the founder and CEO of The Cordoba Foundation. It is alleged that he was hacked using the Pegasus spyware in 2020 by the United Arab Emirates.

Mohammed Kozbar, who is the current Chairman of Finsbury Park Mosque, is alleged to have been hacked using the Pegasus spyware in 2018 by the United Arab Emirates.

And Yahya Assiri, who is the former Secretary General of the National Assembly Party (NAAS), a pro-democracy Saudi opposition party, is alleged to have been hacked using the Pegasus spyware in 2020 by Saudi Arabia.

The British law firm Bindmans in collaboration with the Global Legal Action Network has put NSO, the UAE and Saudi Arabia on formal notice of intended hacking claims.

The Pegasus spyware is made by the Israeli technology company NSO Group Technologies Ltd, and has been sold under licence to a number of foreign governments.

The claimants are alleging that their mobile phones were hacked by Pegasus spyware whilst they were in the United Kingdom and that this was an invasion of their privacy rights. They are seeking to bring breach of privacy claims against the defendants in the High Court of England and Wales.

NSO formally responded to the pre-action letters on April 1, 2022. There has been no response received by Bindmans to date from either the UAE or Saudi Arabia.

Anas Altikriti said: “It’s bad enough to realise that my device was hacked and that I was spied upon, but to realise that the party responsible for such a heinous intrusion on my privacy was a foreign authoritarian government accused of gross human rights abuses and violations, is simply horrendous. If nothing else, one’s privacy is sacrosanct, particularly when engaged in work that affects the lives of others, and the UAE government violated that leaving me to wonder who and how others were impacted as a result.”

Mohammed Kozbar, Chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, said: “These brutal, authoritarian regimes know they are on the wrong side of every basic human rights standard, which is why they are taking the desperate and aggressive measure of launching cross-border spying attacks against peaceful campaigners. NSO Group has shamelessly profited from this oppressive practice, which makes them no better than their dictator customers. It is vital that they should be held accountable.”

And Yahya Assiri said: “The fight continues, with justice and rights on the one side and unjust, abusive dictators on the other. The abusers will not leave us to defend justice and rights without attacking us by any means – they will use everything, legal or illegal, to stop us and protect their interests, and now everyone can see and understand the reality. We are very optimistic and we believe that the judicial system will stand with us. Yes they spy on us, have arrested our friends and tortured and killed some of them, but we believe that the side of justice and rights will prevail in the end.”

Siobhán Allen, legal officer with GLAN and consultant solicitor with Bindmans LLP, added: “The use of Pegasus spyware against these human rights defenders has made their work even more dangerous. It is important to pursue judicial recognition that this should not have happened.”

‘Monitoring dissdients’ 

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among several governments around the world accused of using Pegasus spyware to monitor the activities of dissidents and other critics, following the leaking of a list of 50,000 alleged potential surveillance targets to rights groups.

Last year Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates dismissed allegations they used Israeli-supplied Pegasus malware to spy on journalists and human rights activists.

A statement by the UAE’s foreign ministry said “allegations … claiming that the UAE is amongst a number of countries accused of alleged surveillance targeting journalists and individuals have no evidentiary basis”. Such allegations “are categorically false”, it added.

And Saudi Arabia’s official SPA news agency reported that “a Saudi official denied the recent allegations reported in media outlets that an entity in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia used software to monitor phone calls… The source added that such allegations are untrue, and that KSA’s policies do not condone such practices.”

Editorial credit: T. Schneider / Shutterstock.com

Meanwhile, the Israeli company NSO said: We would like to emphasize that NSO sells it technologies solely to law enforcement and intelligence agencies of vetted governments for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts. NSO does not operate the system and has no visibility to the data.

“Our technologies are being used every day to break up pedophilia rings, sex and drug-trafficking rings, locate missing and kidnapped children, locate survivors trapped under collapsed buildings, and protect airspace against disruptive penetration by dangerous drones. Simply put, NSO Group is on a life-saving mission, and the company will faithfully execute this mission undeterred, despite any and all continued attempts to discredit it on false grounds.”

The Muslim claimants are represented by Monika Sobiecki, Tamsin Allen and Tayab Ali of Bindmans LLP, together with Siobhán Allen and Dearbhla Minogue of GLAN.

Richard Hermer QC, Ben Silverstone and Darryl Hutcheon of Matrix Chambers are instructed as Counsel.

“Orange” of Reckon Digital and Bill Marczak (Senior Research Fellow at Citizen Lab) are providing digital imaging and forensics support.

The three claimants are part of a larger group of activists, academics, politicians and other prominent figures.

Bindmans is seeking to crowdfund the case using CrowdJustice, a community fundraising platform. To find out more about the case, or to support the claimants to this challenge, visit the CrowdJustice fundraising page here.

For more information, visit www.thepegasusfiles.com.

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