35 Jordanians were found to have been hacked using Pegasus spyware in a February 1st report, according to AP.
Pegasus was created by Israeli company, NSO Group, and allows users to access the contents of targets’ cell phones, as-well-as controlling their in-built cameras and microphones.
Among the 35 Jordanians were two members of the US-based Human Rights Watch, a lawyer, two journalists from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, and five members of the National Forum for the Defence of Freedoms, which provides pro-bono legal representation for political activists and prisoners.
Access Now’s report said the origin of the Pegasus attacks was impossible to determine but called on the Jordanian government to ensure a “prompt, impartial, and independent investigation into hacking allegations,” upholding its constitutional and human rights obligations in protecting freedom of expression.
The findings come after years of lessening freedoms in Jordan as state security services crack down on descent. The situation worsened with the passing of a 2023 cybercrime law, criminalizing a calculatedly broad range of online behaviour.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a US based human rights group was alarmed by the revelations.
“The new revelations that journalists and media workers in Jordan have been targeted with Pegasus spyware underscores the need for an immediate moratorium on the use and sale of this technology, and a ban on vendors facilitating abuses,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Journalists are not legitimate surveillance targets, and those responsible for these attacks should be held accountable.”
Jordan is not the only MENA country to be hit by Pegasus however.
The Moroccan government was implicated in a similar scandal in 2021, when Amnesty International and press freedom group, Forbidden Stories, listed the kingdom among dozens of countries using Pegasus to monitor opponents, journalists, and diplomats. In July of that year, it was revealed that France’s president Emmanuel Macron was targeted by Pegasus, who believed that it was the Moroccan security services who were responsible – sparking a massive fall out between France and Morocco.
The investigation found that 50,000 people around the world were hacked using NSO Group’s spyware.
Rabat filed defamation cases against a number of French media outlets and NGOs that had reported on the espionage, but the lawsuits were thrown out in an April 12th, 2023, French court ruling which found the claims to be “inadmissible.”
Morocco, including Western Sahara, ranked 144th of 180 in Reporters Without Borders’ (RWB) 2023 World Press Freedom Index.
RWP stated that in the kingdom “Independent media and journalists are harasses and persecuted, and the right to news and information is crushed by a powerful propaganda and disinformation machine serving the political agenda of the government and its close allies.”
The damning indictment ties a rapid decline in Moroccan press freedom to the appointment of billionaire, Aziz Akhannouch, as prime minister, in September 2021.
Reporting on corruption, the role of Islam in politics, Western Sahara, and the royal family are cited by RWP among the many subjects implicitly “off limits” to Moroccan journalists, under the Akhannouch administration.