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23 November 2022

State spyware to be challenged in court

3 mins

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

On Tuesday 22 November 2022, an additional 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.

Dr Tamimi 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 comments:

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.

Read more about the Pegasus case on the Bindmans case hub here.

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