Bahrain has become the latest country to be caught up in a backlash over the use of Pegasus spyware developed by Israeli group NSO, after a UK-based opposition activist filed a lawsuit against the country for allegedly using him to spy on him.
London-based Yusuf Al-Jamri fled Bahrain in late 2017, crossing the King Fahd Causeway into Saudi Arabia, then Kuwait and the UK. He was granted asylum in the UK in March 2018.
He says he fled after being detained and tortured by Bahrain’s National Security Agency in August 2017.
“Since I was a child, I have been subjected to psychological and physical torture by Bahraini officials. After my last experience of torture in 2017, where my family members were threatened with rape, I knew I could no longer stay in the country,” he said in a statement released on December 6.
“I lived in fear that they might take me for more brutal interrogation and torture at any time. My life in Bahrain was in real danger.
Al-Jamri claims his phone was infected with Pegasus spyware in early August 2019. A few days earlier, on July 26 of the same year, he tweeted about a protest at the embassy from Bahrain to London, where police had to force their way into the embassy to protect a protester, Moosa Mohammed, who had climbed onto the roof of the building and was allegedly assaulted by embassy staff. Mohammed was later found guilty of trespassing.
Letters before complaint
On December 6, Al-Jamri announced that lawyers had taken the first steps in a legal action against the Bahraini authorities and the Israeli technology group, with pre-complaint letters sent to the Bahraini Embassy in London and the NSO Group. . These letters are used to inform someone that legal proceedings may soon begin against them.
Al-Jamri is represented by law firm Bindmans and the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), which are already working on a number of similar cases involving dissidents in the UK allegedly targeted by Saudi Arabia and the Emirates United Arabs.
“We all have the right to feel safe at home and in our adopted countries,” said Monika Sobiecki, partner at Bindmans. “Yusuf’s case is important because it seeks to uncover how the long arm of authoritarian governments…operates to continue to abuse activists beyond their borders using new technologies.”
In August, the High Court in London ruled that Saudi dissident Ghanem Al-Masair could continue his case against the Saudi government, which also centers on the hacking of his phone using Pegasus software. The court rejected the Saudi government’s argument that it was protected by sovereign immunity.
Al-Jamri’s claim alleges that in early August 2019, while he was in England, his iPhone was infected with Pegasus software installed by Bahrain, or someone acting on its behalf, in conjunction with NSO. He alleges that the Bahraini authorities could then have controlled the camera and audio recording facilities on the phone to covertly monitor and record the activities, thereby violating his right to privacy and causing him distress and other harm.
“The British authorities granted me asylum and that gave me a real sense of security. I thought the Bahraini authorities wouldn’t hurt me anymore, until they hacked my iPhone,” Al-Jamri said. “The Bahraini regime would not be able to commit this crime and violate my privacy without the tools provided to them by the NSO Group. I am determined to hold them both accountable.
Neither the Bahraini Embassy in London nor the NSO had responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.
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