Amnesty International on Saturday accused Morocco of launching a “smear campaign and the false claims” against it in an effort to “discredit solid human rights research”, it said in a statement on its website.
This, the organisation added, “shows how intolerant they have become of scrutiny and legitimate criticism of their human rights record”, adding that there are reports that the government is seeking to close Amnesty’s Rabat office.
Amnesty said it checked Radi’s phone and alleged that authorities had snooped on him using spyware developed by cybersecurity company NSO Group, which has been linked to the murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Radi, a critic of Morocco’s human rights record, had been questioned by police for what the prosecutor said were suspicions he received funds linked to foreign intelligence services.
“This is not the first time efforts have been made to undermine Amnesty’s work and coincides with a deepening repression within the country. Dozens of human rights activists, independent journalists and protesters are currently in prison and the authorities have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past months to prosecute more critics,” Amnesty added.
“The Moroccan government has falsely accused Amnesty International of failing to offer them the right of reply on the findings of the report, and of fabricating facts and failing to provide evidence to back up the claims made within it.” Accusations the rights groups denies, saying it offered authorities the right to reply two weeks prior to publication.
Morocco is not the first Middle Eastern country with no formal links to Israel to have been accused of using Israeli spyware to crackdown on oppositionists.
In January 2019 it emerged that the UAE had used Pegasus spyware to spy on the Emir of Qatar, Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, and Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani. Head of NSO Group, Shalev Hulio, explained that the Israeli Defence Export Control Agency (DECA) had authorised three deals with the UAE for the sale of NSO software, which were allegedly mediated by former Israeli defence officials with close ties to a senior Emirati official. The deals are thought to have been worth $80 million.
While in 2016, Canada-based research institute Citizen Lab and Apple revealed there were attempts to infect an iPhone owned by the Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. Mansoor had raised the alarm after receiving suspicious text intended to “bait to get him to click on a link, which would have led to the infection of his Apple iPhone 6 and control of the device through a spy software created by the NSO Group”.