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Saudi spyware targeting of activist to be challenged in UK Court


Further legal challenge launched by human rights activist against authoritarian state using sinister Pegasus spyware.


On Tuesday 22 November 2022, a further human rights activist in the UK represented by

Bindmans LLP and Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) has taken the first step in starting legal action arising from the hacking of his phones by a foreign state using the spyware known as “Pegasus”. He now joins the group who began their action earlier this year.


The claimant is Dr Azzam Tamimi, a British-Jordanian journalist, academic, and political

activist of Palestinian heritage. He has lectured at many prominent universities and published

several books on Middle Eastern and Islamic politics.


He is the founder, chairman and editor-in-chief of a satellite TV channel, Al-Hiwar, which

advocates for freedom and human rights in Middle Eastern countries. Azzam was also a long-standing friend of Jamal Khashoggi, the murdered Saudi journalist, who appeared as a guest on the Claimant’s show on the Al-Hiwar channel (Hiwar London, or the“London Discussion”) just one month before the first verified example of the Claimant’s phone being hacked.


It is alleged that he was targeted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia using Pegasus spyware on

several occasions between 2018 and 2021.


Dr Tamimi, said:


“I was hacked with Pegasus spyware while I was in touch with Mr Khashoggi, most

likely with a view to silencing a brave and widely respected journalist. This deliberate

and evil act shows that the regime will stop at nothing to crush free speech and the

human rights of those who criticise it. We will bring these matters into the light and

believe that justice will prevail in the end."


Siobhan Allen, senior lawyer with GLAN and consultant solicitor at Bindmans LLP, said:


“Powerful spyware is being silently deployed across borders by authoritarian states

targeting human rights defenders who expect to be able to conduct their important

work safely in the UK. The English courts need to recognise that this should not have

happened and cannot be allowed to continue with impunity.”


Tayab Ali, partner at Bindmans LLP, specialist in international human rights law and one of

the lawyers representing the claimants, said:


“The use of spyware by states to unlawfully breach the privacy of human rights

activists, journalists and politicians is a new and developing threat to all our rights and freedoms. The fact that this spyware has been used by foreign states in the UK is such a serious breach of national security that it should be of major concern to the UK

Government and Security Services. Not only should the Courts deal with this but the

Government should hold a Public Inquiry to establish exactly how this could have been

allowed to happen”.


Note for Editors


The claimant alleges that his phone was hacked using Pegasus spyware while he was in the

United Kingdom. This constitutes a significant breach of his rights to privacy, as well as

damage to property.


The claimant therefore intends to bring claims for breach of privacy in the High Court of

England and Wales, against both NSO Group and the state he alleges used the Pegasus

spyware against him (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). Recently, the English High Court ruled that

Ghanem al-Masarir, a prominent critic of Saudi Arabia who also alleges he was hacked with

Pegasus while in the UK, will be allowed to bring his claim in the English courts.


The claimant joins three other claimants also represented by Bindmans who have already sent

pre-action letters to NSO, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE in February 2022. All

four claims are the result of a painstaking investigation which Bindmans and GLAN have

undertaken since 2021.


Forensics imaging and analysis is being carried out by technology experts at Reckon Digital

(London) and by Dr. Bill Marczak of Citizen Lab and UC Berkeley (California).


Pre-litigation funding was provided by crowdfunding and the Digital Freedom Fund.


Pegasus spyware is manufactured and sold by the Israeli technology company NSO Group

Technologies Ltd and has been sold under Israeli export licences to a number of foreign

governments.


The use of Pegasus spyware by foreign governments to target human rights defenders and

political opponents has been widely documented in international media including The

Guardian, The Washington Post, and the New Yorker.


The group of claimants are represented by Monika Sobiecki, Tamsin Allen, Tayab Ali, and

Bartosz Kruk of Bindmans LLP, together with Siobhán Allen and Dearbhla Minogue of GLAN.

Richard Hermer QC, Ben Silverstone and Darryl Hutcheon of Matrix Chambers are instructed

as Counsel.


“Orange” of Reckon Digital and Bill Marczak (Senior Research Fellow at Citizen Lab) are

providing digital imaging and forensics support.


Bindmans is seeking to crowdfund the case using CrowdJustice, a community fundraising

platform. To find out more about the case, or to support the claimants to this challenge, visit

the CrowdJustice fundraising page here.


For more details and to subscribe for email updates on this case, please visit GLAN's case page here.

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