Right Livelihood Award 2019 Lecture at the University of Zurich with Aminatou Haidar, 2019 Right Livelihood Award Laureate 11/ 2019 Photo: Wolfgang Schmidt

Sahrawi activist and Awards Laureate Aminatou Haidar hacked with Pegasus spyware

Right Livelihood and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights are deeply alarmed by recent evidence showing that Awards Laureate Aminatou Haidar’s phones have been targeted with Pegasus spyware, created by the Israeli NSO Group. In a context where Moroccan authorities have been repressing any forms of dissent in Western Sahara for decades, this comes as worrying evidence that digital attacks and surveillance are being increasingly used against Sahrawi activists and human rights defenders as an additional tool of repression.

In November 2021, Apple sent Sahrawi human rights defender Aminatou Haidar a security alert warning that her phone may have been targeted by state-sponsored attackers. Amnesty International’s Security Lab, where the case had been referred, conducted a forensic analysis of Haidar’s devices, confirming that Pegasus spyware recently targeted two of her phones.

According to the analysis, traces of targeting date back to September 2018 and traces of infection have been found as recently as October and November 2021. This comes months after the shocking revelations of the Pegasus Project exposed how governments in many parts of the world have used the NSO Group’s spyware to silence human rights defenders and journalists, and perpetrate human rights abuses.

Amnesty International has extensively documented that the Pegasus spyware has been misused for targeted surveillance of Moroccan human rights defenders since 2017. This is even more alarming in the context of Western Sahara, where Moroccan authorities have been repressing any voices claiming the Sahrawi people’s inalienable right to self-determination and the respect of their fundamental freedoms.

In such a hostile civic space environment, evidence that a prominent activist such as Haidar was hacked can discourage other defenders from continuing their human rights work over fears of being persecuted, and puts their contacts at increased risk of exposure and subsequent reprisals.

We condemn in the strongest terms the unlawful use of Pegasus spyware against Haidar, which is in violation of her right to privacy, freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, among other rights. Independent and transparent investigations into her targeted surveillance must be promptly conducted. The NSO group and those involved in these targeted digital attacks must be held accountable.

Lastly, we echo the calls previously made by UN experts to place an immediate moratorium on the sale and transfer of surveillance technologies produced by private firms until adequate human rights regulation is in place.

We stand in full solidarity with Aminatou Haidar, 2008 RFK Human Rights Award Laureate and 2019 Right Livelihood Laureate, who has been campaigning for over 30 years for the self-determination of the Sahrawi people and the respect of their fundamental rights.