Politicians and activists from Catalonia have been attacked with the mercenary spyware „Pegasus“, the scope is almost unbelievable. According to a report by the Canadian group Citizen Lab in April of this year, at least 65 people are said to be involved. In addition to the current president of the Catalan autonomous government, Pere Aragonès, you were also spied upon this way. What is known so far about the extent of the scandal known as „CatalanGate“?
So far we have confirmation that more than 60 politicians, activist, advisors, lawyers and family members have been spied on by Pegasus, although in reality we believe there have been many more. Due to the very nature of Pegasus, it is very difficult to determine who has been infected and when, but it is very likely that we are dealing with the most extensive case of European espionage in the last 30 years. This is one of our specific requests, to be able to know who has been spied on and who has authorised it.
How did the spying come out in the first place, and when? Did those affected contact Citizen Lab themselves?
The research was published more then half a year ago by Citizen Lab, although they have been investigating Pegasus spying for much longer. Most of the cases detected occurred between 2017 and 2020 and are included in the report by Citizen Lab, which was in contact with those potentially affected who wanted to collaborate and with their entourage. In this report, it was discovered that apart from attacking specific targets, spying was also carried out on those closest to them, such as family members or lawyers, constituting a scandalous violation of the human rights and privacy of European citizens.
After „CatalanGate“ became public, there was speculation as to who was the originator. Of course, it is obvious that it was the government of the Spanish state. What speaks in favour of this, and which specific authorities could be considered?
What other government could be willing to spend so much money on spying on the Catalan independence movement? It is clear that no other member state would have spied on my wife, my friends or my advisors, or spied on members of civil society indiscriminately. Moreover, the dates on which the Citizen Lab report certifies that there was espionage coincide with periods of many political negotiations, with the preparation of the defence of trials or with transcendental decisions. Is this interference with democracy tolerable in a member state of the Union? This is extremely serious, as it directly affects my ability to defend myself and the principle of client-attorney confidentiality.
The Spanish state has also failed to acknowledge who carried out this espionage. We do not know whether it was the CNI, a police force or simply the state’s sewers. In the PEGA commission we have asked for transparency to know who ordered the espionage and to be able to know who has our personal data stored.
Was it already known that authorities of the Spanish state were using „Pegasus“? And are there comparable cyberweapons from other manufacturers in use by the police or intelligence services? In Germany, for example, the police themselves have programmed such state malware…
We had suspicions, but no confirmed information. The experts who wrote the report confirmed how the Spanish state spies on us and violates our most fundamental rights, as I explained before. It is inexplicable the use of a software like Pegasus, which directly affects sensitive and private content of our lives and breaks with all the judicial guarantees that other EU countries have already shown to apply. If the Spanish state is so sure that this espionage is under the protection of the law and is homologable in other EU countries, why has not been used the software that is approved for this use, SITEL?
They know perfectly well that this case violates the fundamental rights of European citizens, and that it is a scandal that is impossible to justify. Once again, Spain falls far short of the values of the Union.
To what extent has the government confirmed or denied the spying in the meantime?
In the official secrets committee of Spanish Parliament, the director of the CNI, Paz Esteban, acknowledged that the Supreme Court endorsed 18 Catalan pro-independence supporters, including all those closest to me. I would like to know what endorsement they used to justify this violation of the rights of all those around me and the rest of those spied on, so that I could share it with all my colleagues in the EP and so that they could really see, once again, how Spain treats the Catalan independence supporters.
But what about the rest of the cases that the report shows with empirical evidence and the CNI does not recognise? Which judge will protect them?
Two weeks after the scandal became public, the government also claimed to have been attacked with „Pegasus“, namely Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Defence Minister Margarita Robles. Conspicuous timing, don’t you think?
Yes, if not more so. But while we provide a report by independent specialists, they do not. I do not understand why the President of the Government did not communicate this alleged violation beforehand, if he already knew about it, and waited until CatalanGate broke out to communicate it.
If the government reports are true, would you participate in speculations about the attackers? After all, NSO claims to have only sold to governments, and Morocco is said to be one of its clients….
I do not engage in speculation. I can demonstrate how the Spanish state systematically violates the rights of dozens of Catalan citizens with reports from the CoE and the UN, and how it has done it again with Pegasus, losing all democratic credibility.
In 2018, you were arrested by the Schleswig-Holstein motorway police after you tried to cross Germany by car coming from Denmark. There was an arrest warrant from the Spanish government. Apparently, the secret service there knew about your travel plans and informed the German partners about your planned border crossing. Could the spy software have played a role here?
It is because of all these uncertainties that I believe and advocate that Pegasus should be banned: democratic dissidents, minorities and members of the opposition all over the world are more at risk than before because of the EU’s inaction. As of today, the only thing I can be sure of is that members of the Spanish state placed a beacon on my car to track it and organise the operation that led to my arrest. For the umpteenth time, we see how the Spanish state violates the rights of European citizens, even when they are in third countries.
You yourself sit on the committee of inquiry on „Pegasus“; how do you think the investigation is progressing there?
I think the work we are doing in the committee is moving in the right direction. However, even within this committee, the indiscriminate use of Pegasus against pro-independence Catalans has gone unnoticed, even though it is a major case. What is the point of excluding a mission to Spain? It would be a unique opportunity to investigate more thoroughly all these cases and to clarify the doubts that do not arise for everyone.
Of course, you will also participate in the drafting of the final report. What do you think should be included in the recommendations and demands?
What is clear to me is that Pegasus has to be banned, and in an act of transparency the actions that have taken place so far have to be clarified and investigated. After more than 5 years in exile, if I have learned one thing, it is that the more the EU protects Spain the more its double standards on civil rights damage its internal and external credibility. This is not a Pegasus issue. It is an issue of fundamental human rights. It is an opportunity to fight for a better Europe.