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Catalan independence leaders accuse Spain of ‘huge’ espionage by Israeli-made spyware

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This studio photographic illustration shows the website of Israel's NSO Group which features ‘Pegasus’ spyware. (File photo)

Catalonia’s regional leader Pere Aragones says the Spanish government is purportedly spying on dozens of Catalan pro-independence figures using an Israeli-made spyware.

“It’s an unjustifiable disgrace. An extremely serious attack on fundamental rights and democracy,” Aragones tweeted in English on Monday.

“The Spanish government must give immediate explanations and get to the bottom of the matter.”

His comments came after a report by Citizen Lab research center at the University of Toronto alleged that at least 65 Catalan separatists had been targeted, including Aragones himself, by Pegasus spyware, which has been developed by the Israeli cyber arms firm NSO Group.

The report, which was carried by The New Yorker and Spanish daily El Pais, claimed the spyware had been installed on phones of the center’s members.

Pegasus, the NSO’s spyware, can hack into a mobile phone and intercept all communications, including encrypted messages. It can also turn any phone into a listening device and enable a Pegasus operator to remotely activate the targeted phone’s recorder and camera.

Virtually all the phones were purportedly hacked between 2017 and 2020, the report said, adding that the kind of espionage Madrid is accused of is illegal in Spain.

“We have been spied on in a huge and illegal manner through software that only states can possess. Politicians, lawyers and activists are all victims of the Spanish state’s dirty war,” tweeted ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.

The Spanish government has not yet commented on the allegations.

Back in July 2020, the president of the Catalan regional parliament, Roger Torrent, alleged Madrid was spying on him using Pegasus but the Spanish government rejected the accusation.

In 2017, Catalonia’s regional government announced that 90 percent of those who participated in an independence referendum banned by Spain’s central government chose to be separated from the country. In order to halt the vote, Madrid increased pressure on Catalan officials and it also deployed thousands of extra police from across the country to Catalonia. Since then, Catalonia has been a mainstay issue within the Spanish politics.

Catalonia, one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, held a symbolic referendum in November 2014, during which more than 80 percent of participants voted for independence, according to Catalan officials.

Catalonia’s bid to break away from Spain provoked one of the worst political crises there since the end of Francisco Franco's military dictatorship in 1975.


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