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Spain denies phone spying on Catalan separatists

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Spain denies phone spying on Catalan separatists
Reports that Israel-made Pegasus spyware has been used to monitor activists, journalists and politicians around the world highlight the diplomatic risks of nurturing and exporting "oppressive technology", experts have warned. (Photo by Mario GOLDMAN / AFP)

The Spanish government has categorically denied illegally spying on Catalan separatists, after a rights group accused Madrid of having targeted their mobile phones with Pegasus spyware.

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At least 65 Catalan separatists were targeted, including the region’s current leader, by the spyware made by Israel’s NSO Group, according to a report published Monday by Citizen Lab research centre at the University of Toronto.

The group said almost all of the spying took place between 2017 and 2020 in the wake of the independence bid by Catalonia that plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in years.

“The government has nothing to hide,” spokeswoman Isabel Rodríguez told a news conference, when asked about the accusations following a weekly cabinet meeting.

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Spain is “a democratic country and a state of law where we do not spy, we do not intercept conversations, we do not wiretap, except within the framework of the law,” she added.

The Spanish government will cooperate “as much as possible” with any investigation into the allegations, she added.

Citizen Lab, which focuses on high-tech human rights abuses, said Catalan leader Pere Aragonès, ex-regional leaders Quim Torra and Artur Mas as well as members of the Catalan parliament and independent civil society organisations were among those targeted.

“The Spanish government must give immediate explanations and get to the bottom of the matter,” Aragonès tweeted in English on Monday.

Amnesty International also urged Spain to “conduct a thorough, independent investigation” into the alleged use of Pegasus spyware against the Catalan separatists identified in the investigation.

Pegasus, which can switch on a phone’s camera or microphone and harvest its data, was at the centre of a storm last year after a list of about 50,000 potential surveillance targets worldwide was leaked to the media.

Catalonia in northeast Spain has been for several years at the centre of a political crisis between separatists, who control the executive and the regional parliament, and the central government in Madrid.

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