Moroccan human rights defenders targeted by an Israeli-developed spyware, Amnesty finds

In a report released Thursday, Amnesty International revealed that two Moroccan human rights defenders have been targeted, since 2017, with malicious SMS attacks aimed at installing an Israeli-developed spyware.

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Two Moroccan human right defenders have been targeted, since 2017, with an infamous spyware developed by the Israeli company «NSO Group», British non-governmental organization Amnesty International revealed Thursday.

Research conducted by the London-based international organization concludes that the two Moroccan activists, namely historian and columnist Maati Monjib and former Hirak lawyer Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui, were «victims» of these attacks aimed at installing spyware on their devices.

Malicious SMS messages

The report released by Amnesty shows that Monjib’s devices were «repeatedly targeted with malicious SMS messages that carried links to websites connected to NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware». Speaking to the NGO, Monjib alleges that «he has been under digital surveillance by Moroccan authorities».

«I need to constantly analyze the consequences of what I say and the risk that this may lead to defamatory accusations against me. This even applies to very practical things like arranging meetings or a dinner downtown», Monjib told Amnesty International.

The Moroccan historian is not the only human rights defender that Amnesty met. In the same report, the NGO reveals that Bouchattaoui was also targeted by the same spyware.

«After checking his devices for evidence of targeting, Amnesty International was able to confirm that Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui was indeed targeted repeatedly with malicious SMS messages that carried links to websites connected to NSO Group’s Pegasus», it added.

Speaking to the same international organization, the lawyer who currently lives in France said that he «has been followed multiple times and that his clients have also been harassed».

«Surveillance in Morocco is carried out in an open and brazen way… Surveillance is a type of punishment. You can’t behave freely. It is part of their strategy to make you suspect you’re being watched so you feel like you’re under pressure all the time», he argued.

In addition to its findings, Amnesty revealed that «links sent to Maati Monjib and Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui via SMS (…) if clicked, they would have resulted in an attempted exploitation of their devices».

Suspected NSO Pegasus infections

Furthermore, the findings of the NGO suggest that Maati Monjib’s mobile phone has «some suspicious traces which [they] believe are indicative of some peculiar exploitation attempts». By inspecting the activist’s Safari browsing history, Amnesty found that he was targeted by «network injection attacks (…) aimed at installing spyware».

Commenting on the findings of its research, Amnesty stated the «targeting of Maati Monjib and Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui, simply for carrying out human rights work, is unlawful according to principles laid out in international human rights law».

In a previous survey by Canadian software developer Citizen Lab, it was revealed that «suspected NSO Pegasus infections associated with 33 Pegasus operators» were identified in several African countries, including Morocco.

Citizen Lab stressed in its investigation that Morocco is one of the countries where «significant Pegasus operations have previously been linked to abusive use of spyware to target civil society».

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