Bahrain has become the latest country to be caught up in a backlash against the use of Pegasus spyware developed by Israel’s NSO Group, after a UK-based opposition activist launched legal action against the country for allegedly using it to spy on him.
London-based Yusuf Al-Jamri fled Bahrain in late 2017, travelling over the King Fahd Causeway to Saudi Arabia and from there to Kuwait and on to the UK. He was granted asylum in the UK in March 2018.
He says he fled after being detained and tortured by the Bahraini National Security Agency in August 2017.
“Since I was a child, I was subjected to psychological and physical torture at the hands of Bahraini officials. After my last torture experience in 2017, where I had my family members threatened with rape, I knew I could no longer stay in the country,” he said in a statement issued on December 6.
“I was living in fear that they might take me for more brutal interrogation and torture at any moment. My life in Bahrain was in real danger.”
Al-Jamri claims his phone was infected with the Pegasus spyware in early August 2019. A few days earlier, on July 26 that year, he had been tweeting about a protest at the Bahrain embassy in London, where police had to forcibly gain entry to the embassy to protect a protestor, Moosa Mohammed, who had climbed on to the roof of the building and was allegedly being assaulted by embassy staff. Mohammed was later convicted of trespassing.
Letters before claim
On December 6, Al-Jamri announced that lawyers had taken the first steps in a legal action against the Bahraini authorities and the Israeli technology group, with letters before claim sent to the Bahraini Embassy in London and to NSO Group. Such letters are used to notify someone that court proceedings may soon start against them.
Al-Jamri is being represented by Bindmans law firm and the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), which are already working on a number of similar cases involving dissidents in the UK allegedly targeted by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
“We all have the right to feel safe in our homes and in our adopted countries,” said Monika Sobiecki, a partner at Bindmans. “Yusuf’s case is important because it seeks to uncover how the long arm of authoritarian governments … operate to continue the abuse of activists beyond their borders using new technologies.”
In August, the High Court in London ruled that Saudi dissident Ghanem Al-Masarir could move ahead with his case against the Saudi government, which also centers on the hacking of his phone using Pegasus software. The court had dismissed the Saudi government’s argument that it was protected by sovereign immunity.
Al-Jamri’s claim alleges that in early August 2019, while he was in England, his iPhone was infected with Pegasus software installed by Bahrain, or someone acting on its behalf, in collaboration with NSO. It alleges that the Bahraini authorities would then have been able to control the camera and audio recording facilities on the phone to secretly monitor and record activities, thereby breaching his right to privacy and causing him distress and other harms.
“The UK authorities granted me asylum and this gave me a real sense of safety. I thought the Bahraini authorities would not harm me further, until they hacked my iPhone,” said Al-Jamri. “The Bahraini regime would not be able to commit this crime and violate my privacy without the tools provided to them by the NSO Group. I am determined to hold them both accountable.”
Neither the Bahrain embassy in London nor NSO had responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.