File image. A group of activists protesting against spyware surveillance outside the NSO offices in Herzliya, Israel on on July 25, 2021 (Photo credit: Alamy photo agency)
On 18 February, Amnesty International revealed that the cell phones and personal computers of three Bahraini human rights activists were infected with the infamous Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli firm, NSO Group.
According to the report, the spyware was discovered during an examination of the devices by experts at Red Line for Gulf, which works in collaboration with Amnesty International and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.
Amnesty International identified the targets as Mohamed al-Tajer, Sharifa Swar and a third person who opted to remain anonymous to avoid backlash from authorities.
The first target, Al-Tajer, is a renowned human rights lawyer who represented the families of two Bahraini activists who died after being tortured by security forces during the protests against the Al-Khalifa monarch in 2011.
The investigation by Citizen Lab shows that the lawyer’s phone was targeted on several occasions in September 2021.
A former head of the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory, Al-Tajer told journalists that he has, on several occasions, been threatened by Bahraini intelligence.
Sharifa Swar, a Bahraini mental health counselor and online journalist living in exile in the UK, was the second target of the hack.
It is believed Swar was targeted due to articles she had written accusing the Bahraini Ministry of Health of colluding with drug traffickers. Her phone was infected with the Pegasus spyware in June 2021.
Amnesty International said the third target is a Bahraini journalist who extensively covered the 2011 protests against the rulers of the kingdom.
The investigations conducted in recent months have revealed that a number of governments in West Asia have used Israeli spyware to target journalists, lawyers, lecturers, and even ordinary citizens.
One of the most prominent victims of the Pegasus spyware was Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who was murdered inside the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul in 2018 by Saudi intelligence agents.