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High Court grants permission for human rights activist to bring legal case against Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The High Court has granted permission for a prominent critic of the Saudi regime to serve his legal claim against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its alleged use of spyware to infiltrate his mobile phones.

High Court

23 January 2020

The case could set a precedent for others who have been targeted with spyware by foreign governments while in the UK to bring similar claims. 
 
Ghanem al-Masarir, represented by law firm Leigh Day, is a human rights activist and satirist who shares his views through his YouTube channel, the Ghanem Show, which has had more than 300 million views. 
 
In his legal case Ghanem alleges that the Saudi regime infected his mobile phone with the spyware, known as Pegasus, acquired from the Israeli tech company, NSO Group, which allowed them to access his microphone and camera to hear and record what he was doing. The spyware also allows data from the infected device to be modified, extracted and recorded.
 
Ghanem, 39, of North London, issued his claim in the High Court in November 2019 but because the case is against a foreign government  he had to await permission from the court so that he could serve his case on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Ghanem is bringing the case in the English courts on the basis that he was targeted with the spyware and assaulted whilst he was in the UK, where he has lived for the last 16 years. By granting permission to serve the case the court agrees that there is an arguable case against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
 
Ghanem is bringing a claim for personal injuries resulting from the misuse of private information and harassment in relation to the spyware. He is also bringing a claim relating to an attack he suffered on 31 August 2018 which he believes was directed by the Saudi regime. 
 
Following his suspicions that his phones may have been infected with spyware Ghanem’s phones were examined by Citizen Lab, renowned world experts on the impact of the use of such spyware. Citizen Lab confirmed that Ghanem had been sent malicious texts containing links that looked like they were from reputable courier companies but, when clicked, led to domains associated with the Pegasus spyware and NSO infrastructure. They concluded with a high degree of confidence that the state responsible for targeting Ghanem was Saudi Arabia. 
 
The NSO Group is an Israeli technology firm working in the field of cyber intelligence which has been implicated in a number of alleged spyware attacks. In October 2019 the social messaging company WhatsApp announced that it was bringing a legal case against NSO Group, accusing them of being behind the targeting of more than 100 political activists, lawyers and journalists through the WhatsApp platform during a two week period in April/May 2019. It is believed that many more could have been targeted by the spyware.
 
Ghanem said:
 
“I am delighted that the High Court has given me permission to serve my case against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For years it has seemed like the Saudi regime cannot be touched by the legal system but finally I have the opportunity to hold them to account in a fair and independent court of law and hopefully see justice served. I hope this latest development gives confidence to others who have been targeted in the same way by the regime that they can fight back.”
 
Martyn Day, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, said: 
 
“The use of spyware to target critics is a clear breach of an individual’s rights and sadly it is something that seems to be more and more common. It is crucial in order for freedom of expression to be upheld that those implicated in such attacks can be held accountable by the law. This is a rare case brought in this country against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and we are pleased that the court has agreed that given the circumstances in this case, the targeting of an individual while he was living in the UK, they are prepared to enable us to serve the formal proceedings on the Saudi Government. We hope that this case will pave the way for other opponents of oppressive regimes who are concerned about being targeted while in the UK to consider bringingclaims in order to hold those responsible to account.”

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