Independence activists denounce 'mass political espionage' in Brussels

Former Catalan National Assembly president says scandal shouldn't have "paralyzing" effect on movement

Former Catalan National Assembly president Elisenda Paluzie speaks at an event in Brussels to denounce the Catalangate spyware scandal alongside the expert in digital rights Chloé Berthélémy
Former Catalan National Assembly president Elisenda Paluzie speaks at an event in Brussels to denounce the Catalangate spyware scandal alongside the expert in digital rights Chloé Berthélémy / Nazaret Romero
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Brussels

October 12, 2022 09:05 PM

Activists have denounced the Catalangate espionage scandal at an event held in Brussels, Belgium. 

Former president of the pro-independence civic group Catalan National Assembly (ANC), Elisenda Paluzie, and former CUP MP David Fernández denounced the "mass political espionage" against the independence movement using spyware such as Pegasus. 

In an event organized by the Brussels branch of ANC, Paluzie said that they will exhaust all judicial avenues against the espionage.

The former head of the civic organization explained the judicial processes initiated by the independence bloc for espionage and lamented the face that the committee of the European parliament investigating the use of Pegasus did not visit Spain.

In addition, she said that it is necessary to exhaust all judicial avenues against espionage. "We must fight everything. We must not let things happen," Paluzie said, stressing that there is no need to "create panic."

The political activist also emphasized the need to not let the espionage scandal have a "paralyzing effect" on the independence movement. "It is important for the movement that we give a positive message of empowerment and persistence in our ideas and activities," he said.

David Fernández denounced that the use of spyware is an "attack against a peaceful political movement," before warning that the issue goes far beyond the borders of Catalonia or Spain, but rather, the problem is a "global" one according to him.

The former far-left MP added that the Catalangate story shows the need to increase cyber security. "We cannot isolate the case of Pegasus", he said.

Fernández has also lamented the lack of investigation in Spain on the matter. "We would hope that all the democratic parliaments would do something so that it would not happen again and that it would be investigated, but this isn't happening," he said.

"It is important not to feel defeated and to continue," he added.

What is Catalangate?

Catalangate is the name that Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto-based research group that reports on high-tech human rights abuses gave its investigation into the espionage of several Catalan pro-independence politicians, activists, and their close associates. 

It is "the largest forensically documented cluster of such attacks and infections on record," the New Yorker published in April.

Phones were infected using spyware programs Pegasus and Candiru. Pegasus, from Israeli company NSO Group, is known internationally for its previous infections of renowned people, such as murdered Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, or members of Rwanda’s opposition party.

Candiru, founded by former NSO Group employees, is not as well known but is similar to Pegasus. 

Who are the main victims?

Although most infection attempts took place between 2017 and 2020, Citizen Lab did detect one in 2015. The victim of this early cyberattack was Jordi Sánchez, the former Catalan National Assembly (ANC) president and one of the jailed and then pardoned leaders of the October 1, 2017 referendum.

Other targets include all of the Catalan presidents who have been in office since 2010. Artur Mas (in power from 2010 to 2015) was hacked after leaving office, while Quim Torra (2018 - 2020) had his phone infected while still serving as president. The phone of Pere Aragonès, the leader since 2021, was infected while he was serving as vice president under Torra.

Carles Puigdemont (2016 - 2017) was not attacked directly but was a relational target as up to 11 of his close associates, including his spouse and his lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, had their phones hacked.

Other political figures whose phones were infected are the former parliament speaker and current business minister, Roger Torrent, of senior coalition partner Esquerra Republicana, who was targeted while at the helm of the Catalan chamber bureau, and Laura Borràs, the current parliament speaker, whose phone was hacked while she was serving as a member of the Spanish Congress for Junts, the junior partner in the Catalan government.