Palestinian Lawyer Sues Pegasus Spyware Maker in France

Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri, who is in Israeli “administrative” detention, filed a complaint in France Tuesday against surveillance firm NSO Group for having “illegally infiltrated” his mobile phone with the spyware Pegasus. In October 2021, Hamouri contacted Front Line Defenders to initiate an examination of his phone after learning of the infiltration of other Palestinian human rights defenders’ phones. Front Line concluded its investigation by November 2021, and The Citizen Lab and Amnesty International confirmed its findings.

French Communist Party campaign for the liberation of the Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri

Hamouri, who also holds French citizenship, is serving a four-month term of administrative detention ordered by an Israeli military court in March, claiming he is a “threat to security.” He is one of several Palestinian activists whose phones were hacked using the Pegasus malware made by the Israeli company NSO, according to a report in November by human rights groups.

The organizations had tested the phones of members of six Palestinian non-government groups that Israel has named as terrorist organizations, including prisoner advocacy group Addameer, where Hamouri worked. The groups concluded that six Palestinian activists working for criminal organizations were infected with Pegasus. 

On last Tuesday, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Human Rights League (LDH) and Hamouri filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor.  It accused NSO of “having illegally infiltrated the telephone of rights defender Salah Hamouri,” they said in a statement sent to the AFP bureau in Jerusalem. “Obviously, this is an operation that is part of a largely political framework given the harassment Hamouri has been subjected to for years and the attacks on human rights defenders in Israel,” attorney Patrick Baudouin, honorary president of the FIDH, told AFP.

The rights groups have filed a complaint alleging offenses – such as the violation of privacy and correspondence – to the prosecutor of the Paris judicial court in the hopes of spurring a judicial investigation.  Baudouin said Hamouri that his phone was allegedly infected with Pegasus prior to his travel to France from April to May 2021, making French courts “competent” to judge the case. NSO has faced mounting scrutiny since a consortium of news outlets revealed in July last year that its Pegasus software was used to spy on the phones of journalists, politicians, activists or business leaders in many countries.

On 18 October 2021, Israel’s Minister of Interior issued a decision to revoke att. Hamouri’s permanent Jerusalem residence card. The decision is based on Hamouri’s alleged “breach of allegiance to the State of Israel” and on vaguely worded and poorly defined allegations of “terrorist activities” and/or affiliation with “terrorist entities”, relating to “secret information.” If this measure is implemented, it would mean that Hamouri, who was born in Jerusalem in 1985 and has lived there his entire life, would be permanently expelled from his country of origin and centre of life without being able to return. It will also set an extremely dangerous legal precedent to be used systematically by Israeli authorities to revoke the residencies of Palestinian Jerusalemites in its attempt to empty Jerusalem of its Palestinian population.