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High Court grants permission to British journalist to bring a spyware based legal case against the United Arab Emirates

A journalist and former activist in the Tunisian revolution of 2011 has been granted permission to serve her legal claim against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for its alleged use of Pegasus spyware to infiltrate her mobile phone.

Posted on 20 March 2024

Although the use of Pegasus spyware by prominent individuals in the UAE government has been reported previously in the UK, this is the first time a case has been brought against the UAE for their alleged use of the spyware.

The High Court in London issued an order that Rania Dridi can serve her claim on the UAE government after an application made on her behalf by the digital surveillance and transnational repression team at law firm, Leigh Day. By granting permission to serve out on the UAE, the Court agrees that there is an arguable case against the UAE.

Rania Dridi
Image of Rania Dridi

Rania, a Tunisian born British citizen, works for the Qatar-based media company Al Araby Television Network as a journalist and presenter on a current affairs programme covering a wide range of topics in the Middle East.

She claims her mobile phone was targeted and hacked at least six times between October 2019 and July 2020 as part of the wider hacking of Al Jazeera and Al Araby TV. The origins of Rania’s hacking were linked back to operators based in the UAE after Rania’s phone was identified by Citizen Lab as being targeted by Pegasus spyware.

It is claimed that the UAE government targeted and infected Rania’s mobile phone with Pegasus spyware which is capable of collecting, modifying and extracting information from mobile devices, real-time monitoring of the location of mobile devices, intercepting voice calls, retrieving files, taking photos and recording audio and video, all of which amount to a violation of an individual’s private life.

Rania is bringing a claim in misuse of private information, harassment and trespass to goods for the injuries arising from her targeting with Pegasus spyware.

Rania’s claim follows the case of Ghanem al-Masarir, whose four-year legal claim against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) over the use of spyware can finally be examined by the courts after the Court of Appeal struck out the KSA’s appeal.

Rania Dridi said:

“Taking legal action against the United Arab Emirates has been one of the biggest challenges for me. I have spoken out publicly and raised my voice as a woman and defied, on my own, a state that suppresses fundamental rights and freedoms, and one that invaded my privacy and violated my personal freedoms, causing me to feel fear, panic and threatened. 

"That being said, I have learned several lessons throughout all of this. The two main lessons are that: (a) one should always trust and believe in the path of justice and adhere steadfastly to the truth and legal accountability; and (b) remaining silent over transnational repression will only strengthen the ability of repressive states to harm us.

"As journalists, human rights activists and political opponents, we hold opinions and express them. Our privacy and personal lives are red lines that no one is entitled to cross. Ensuring justice and protecting others can be achieved by going to the courts and requesting assistance from experienced organizations such as Leigh Day.

"Our common and shared goal must be the following: achieving justice and preserving freedoms.”

Ida Aduwa, senior associate solicitor at Leigh Day who represents Rania, added:

"I am consistently amazed at the courage and resilience demonstrated by our clients who bravely confront State Defendants. Rania’s case holds particular importance, given her public facing role as a woman in her field in this region. The widespread use and intrusive nature of Pegasus Spyware by governments targeting members of civil society cannot go unchallenged. We are pleased that the Court recognises the significance of Rania’s case against the UAE and has allowed it to advance to the next stage."

Ida Pottin Aduwa
Corporate accountability International International human rights Spyware

Ida Aduwa

Ida is a senior associate in the international department

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