Saudi Arabia and Israeli technology company NSO are facing another legal challenge in the UK after British-Jordanian human rights activist Dr Azzam Tamimi launched legal proceedings against them.
Tamimi was a friend of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
He is represented by law firm Bindmans and the Global Legal Action Network, which earlier this year launched a similar case on behalf of three other UK civil society leaders and human rights activists who claim they were violated by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia using NSO’s Pegasus software.
Tamimi, founder and editor-in-chief of the Al-Hiwar satellite television channel, says he was targeted by the Saudi state using the same spyware. His case in the High Court of England and Wales against NSO Group and Saudi Arabia is based on a claim of invasion of privacy.
“I was hacked with Pegasus spyware while in contact with Mr. Khashoggi, likely to silence a brave and widely respected journalist,” he said in a statement. “This deliberate and evil act shows that the regime will stop at nothing to crush the free speech and human rights of those who criticize it. We will bring these matters to light and believe that justice will prevail in the end.”
In August, the Supreme Court ruled that Saudi dissident Ghanem Al-Masarir could continue his case against the Saudi government, which also centers on the hacking of his phone using Pegasus. Saudi Arabia’s argument that it is protected by sovereign immunity was rejected by the court.
Tayab Ali, partner at Bindmans, said the use of spyware in the UK by foreign states was “such a serious breach of national security that it should be of serious concern to the UK government and security services”. He called on the British government to hold a public inquiry into the matter.
Siobhan Allen, senior solicitor at GLAN and legal adviser at Bindmans, added: “Powerful spyware is being quietly deployed across borders by authoritarian states to target human rights defenders who expect to be able to carry out the important work them safely in the UK. The English courts must recognize that this should not have happened and cannot be allowed to continue with impunity.”
In an assessment published in February 2021, the CIA determined that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had authorized the operation in Istanbul to capture or kill Khashoggi. Saudi officials have always denied this. Earlier this month, the Biden administration told a US court that MBS should be granted sovereign immunity in a civil case over the assassination because he had recently been promoted to prime minister.