Catalan politicians denounce espionage as ‘serious attack on democracy and fundamental rights'

Over 60 pro-independence leaders were victims of Pegasus spyware allowing remote access to messages and cameras 

Catalan president Pere Aragonès on March 8, 2022 (by Jordi Bedmar)
Catalan president Pere Aragonès on March 8, 2022 (by Jordi Bedmar) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

April 18, 2022 05:36 PM

Catalan president Pere Aragonès, whose phone was infected with Israeli NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, has called "the massive surveillance operation" against those in favor of independence "a very serious attack on democracy and fundamental rights."

Aragonès’ phone was infected with software that allows users to access messages, as well as to activate the camera and microphone remotely and use other phone features. 

Aragonès and over 60 pro-independence leaders' phones were infected with the software, according to a report published on Monday by American magazine The New Yorker and the University of Toronto-based group focusing on high-tech human-rights abuses, The Citizen Lab.

"We will take all the necessary steps," Aragonès tweeted on Monday afternoon. His phone was infected while he was serving as Quim Torra’s vice president, whose phone was also attacked while he was in office.

The information published on Monday, "requires transparency and the Spanish government must take full responsibility," the current leader wrote on Twitter.   

"This surveillance software can only be bought and used by states. The Spanish government must give immediate explanations and get to the bottom of the matter," he added.

The Citizen Lab has not "conclusively" attributed these hacking operations to "a particular government, however, a range of circumstantial evidence points to a strong nexus with one or more entities within the Spanish government," the report reads. 

The investigative group also believes it is "unlikely that a non-Spanish Pegasus customer would undertake such extensive targeting within Spain, using SMSes, and often impersonating Spanish authorities. Such a multi-year clandestine operation, especially against high profile individuals, has a high risk of official discovery, and would surely lead to serious diplomatic and legal repercussions for a non-Spanish government entity."

Other Catalan leaders affected by Pegasus surveillance have also condemned the espionage. 

The former Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, has accused the Spanish government of spying "massively and illegally" on politicians, lawyers, and activists.

"The report is conclusive," Puigdemont tweeted on Monday. He was not directly infected but up to 11 close associates, including his spouse, were.

On a similar note, parliament speaker Laura Borràs tweeted that the Spanish government is chasing pro-independence leaders "by land, sea, and air." 

"They kick us when we vote, they judicially harass us, they jail us, and now we learn that they also spy on us," she added. According to the report published on Monday, her phone was infected while she was a member of the Spanish congress.   

Spain’s interior minister denies any ties

The Spanish government, meanwhile, has denied any ties to NSO’s software. 

According to interior ministry sources quoted by the Catalan News Agency (ACN), "neither the ministry, the Policia Nacional, nor the Guardia Civil police has had any relationship with the NSO company, therefore, they have never hired their services," the source said.

In fact, the interior ministry had already denied any relationship with the company back in 2020 when two media outlets reported that then-parliament speaker Roger Torrent's phone had been infected with Pegasus. 

Amnesty International calls for investigation

Rights organization Amnesty International has urged the Spanish government to conduct a "thorough and independent" investigation into the use of Pegasus espionage software

"The government has to clarify either if they are a client of NSO Group or not," a statement reads. 

Back in 2019, the organization had already requested information from the defense ministry, but they rejected it as the requested information was "classified."