Azerbaijan, four other states must investigate spyware abuse, says PACE committee

Citing “mounting evidence” that spyware has been used for illegitimate purposes by several Council of Europe member states, a committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has urged five governments to provide information on their use of such spyware within three months, and fully investigate all cases of abuse.

Approving a draft resolution on Pegasus and similar spyware and secret state surveillance, PACE’s Legal Affairs Committee unequivocally condemned “the use of spyware by state authorities for political purposes”. It urged Poland, Hungary, Greece, Spain and Azerbaijan to promptly and fully investigate all cases of abuse of spyware, sanction any they find, and provide redress to victims.

According to the report, there is strong evidence that Azerbaijan has also used it, including during its conflict with Armenia.

The phones of 12 people working in Armenia, including the spokesperson of the Armenian Foreign Ministry, a UN official and several Armenian civil society activists and journalists (most of whom had reported on the conflict), were allegedly infected with Pegasus between October 2020 and December 2022.

Meanwhile, there is no evidence suggesting that Armenia has ever been a Pegasus user. CitizenLab has identified a suspected Pegasus operator in Azerbaijan that could have reached targets in Armenia.

The draft resolution, based on a report by Pieter Omtzigt (Netherlands, EPP/CD), also called on other member states which seem to have acquired or used Pegasus – including Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – to clarify their use of it, and the mechanisms in place to oversee it, within three months.

The committee said secret surveillance of political opponents, public officials, journalists, human rights defenders and civil society for purposes other than those listed in the European Convention on Human Rights, such as preventing crime or protecting national security, would be a clear violation of the Convention.

Mr Omtzigt’s report is due to be debated by the full Assembly during its forthcoming plenary session in Strasbourg (9-13 October 2023).

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