Bahrain Used Israeli NSO Spyware to Target Political & HR Activists

At least nine Bahraini nationals were targeted and had their phones remotely hacked using the Israeli-made Pegasus spyware, Citizen Lab* claimed in a new report published Tuesday, August 24. According to Citizen Lab, “We identified nine Bahraini activists whose iPhones were successfully hacked with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware between June 2020 and February 2021. The hacked activists included three members of Wa’ad (a secular Bahraini political society), three members of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, two exiled Bahraini dissidents, and one member of Al-Wefaq (a Shiite Bahraini political society).”

Hacked Bahraini activist Mousa Abd-Ali protesting in front of the Bahraini Embassy in London

Hacked Bahraini activist Mousa Abd-Ali protesting in front of the Bahraini Embassy in London (Photo: Citizen Lab)

“Two of the hacked activists now reside in London, and at least one was in London when they were hacked. In our research, we have only ever seen the Bahrain government spying in Bahrain and Qatar using Pegasus; never in Europe. Thus, the Bahraini activist in London may have been hacked by a Pegasus operator associated with a different government,” Citizen Lab said.

The new report is the latest unwelcome news for NSO Group. The firm was the focus of recent reports by a media consortium that found the company’s spyware tool Pegasus was used in several instances of successful or attempted phone hacks of business executives, human rights activists and others around the world.

Those investigations, based on leaked data obtained by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International, sparked widespread condemnation of the company. Human rights experts working with the United Nations recently called on countries to pause the sale and transfer of spyware and other surveillance technology until they set rules governing its use, with the aim of ensuring that it won’t impinge upon human rights.

* Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto, focusing on research, development, and high-level strategic policy and legal engagement at the intersection of information and communication technologies, human rights, and global security.