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Spain denies phone spying on Catalan separatists

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.

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)

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.

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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NATO

Spain and Mali foreign ministers speak after row over NATO remarks

Mali's Foreign Minister said Saturday he had spoken with his Spanish counterpart after a row over comments the Spaniard made about the possibility of a NATO operation in the African country.

Spain and Mali foreign ministers speak after row over NATO remarks

Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop wrote in a tweet that he had spoken by phone with his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel Albares about the comments, which were made in a radio interview.

“He denied the remarks and expressed his attachment to friendly relations and cooperation with Mali,” wrote Diop.

Spain moved to calm the row Saturday, a day after a day the military regime in Bamako had summoned their ambassador for an explanation.

“Spain did not ask during the NATO summit or at any other time for an intervention, mission or any action by the Alliance in Mali,” said a statement from Spain’s embassy.

The row blew up over remarks by Albares in an interview Thursday with Spain’s RNE radio. Asked if a NATO mission in Mali could be ruled out, Albares said: “No, we can’t rule it out.”

“It hasn’t been on the table at the talks in Madrid because this is a summit that is laying out, so to speak, the framework for NATO action.”

“If it were necessary and if there was to be a threat to our security, of course it would be done,” he added.

Albares was speaking on the sidelines of the NATO summit as it drew to a close in Madrid. Diop had told state broadcaster ORTM on Friday that Bamako had summoned the Spanish ambassador to lodge a strong protest over the remarks.

READ ALSO: Nato apologises after hanging Spanish flag upside down at Madrid summit

“These remarks are unacceptable, unfriendly, serious,” said Diop, because “they tend to encourage an aggression against an independent and sovereign country”.

“We have asked for explanations, a clarification of this position from the Spanish government,” he added.

At the Madrid summit, Spain pushed hard to prioritise the topic of the threat to NATO’s southern flank caused by the unrest in the Sahel — the vast territory stretching across the south of Africa’s Sahara Desert, incorporating countries such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Jihadist attacks there are pushing increasing numbers of people to flee north towards Europe, with Spain one of the main points of entry there.

READ ALSO: Spain’s capital ramps up security to host Nato summit

At the summit, NATO acknowledged the alliance’s strategic interest in the Middle East, north Africa and the Sahel.

Mali has since 2012 been rocked by jihadist insurgencies. Violence began in the north and then spread to the centre and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

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