Moroccan journalist tops list of ’10 most urgent cases’ of press freedom cases focused on surveillance victims
Governments around the world have used sophisticated crime-fighting spyware to target the press. Journalists say spyware has the potential to expose their sources, movements and other private information that could be used to censor or obstruct them, or jeopardize them or their sources. CPJ also found that these attacks often go hand in hand with other press freedom violations and hamper journalists’ ability to cover important stories on issues such as politics and corruption.
Journalists can find CPJ resources on digital security here and more reporting on spyware and press freedom here.
1. Omar Radi (Morocco)
Since 2018, Moroccan authorities have filed sex crimes charges against several independent journalists in the country in an attempt to target them for their reporting. Investigative journalist Omar Radi is one of 180 journalists identified by the nonprofit Forbidden Stories as being targeted by surveillance spyware. Last July, he was sentenced to six years in prison for sexual assault and undermining state security through espionage and illegal receipt of foreign funds.
2. Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan)
A leading investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova is known for her exposure of high-level government corruption and alleged links between President Ilham Aliyev’s family and businesses. She was sentenced to prison in 2014 and served 538 days before her release. In a forensic analysis of his phone, Amnesty International detected multiple traces of activity linked to the Pegasus spyware, dating from 2019 to 2021.
3. Sevinj Vagifgizi (Azerbaijan)
Sevinj Vagifgizi, a correspondent for independent media outlet Meydan TV based in Berlin and focused on Azerbaijan, was the target of spyware Pegasus from 2019 to 2021. She has previously been targeted by Azerbaijani authorities and banned from leaving the country from 2015 to 2019. In 2019, she faced defamation charges after reporting that people were voting with government-issued pre-filled ballots.
4. Szabolcs Panyi (Hungary)
Reports reveal that in 2019, President Viktor Orbán’s administration’s Pegasus spyware targeted Szabolcs Panyi among five Hungarian journalists, as conditions for independent journalism grew increasingly grim in the country. Panyi is a journalist at Direkt36.hu, known for her reporting on issues such as government corruption.
5. Ricardo Calderón (Colombia)
Throughout 2019 and 2020, Ricardo Calderón, then director of Semana magazine’s investigative team, was the target of threats, harassment and surveillance related to reporting on the Colombian military, including efforts to monitor journalists. This year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruled that Calderón faces “grave and imminent” danger from threats and surveillance by the Colombian military and other sources.
6. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (India)
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a journalist and author, is facing lengthy criminal and civil defamation lawsuits and was recently threatened with arrest. Amnesty International detected forensic indications linked to Pegasus spyware in early 2018 on his phone, while writing about political parties using social media to campaign politically and investigating the foreign assets of a wealthy family Indian businessman.
7. jamal khashoggi (Saudi Arabia)
Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto team that studies media, security and human rights, found that the Pegasus spyware infected the phone of Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, who was in close contact with the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi before his murder by Saudi agents on October 2, 2018. Research has found that the families and colleagues of journalists are often targets of surveillance.
8. Ismael Bojorquez and Andrés Villarreal (Mexico)
After the assassination of Javier Valdez Cárdenas, founder of the Mexican store Río Doce in 2017, the director of Río Doce and his colleague received attempts to infect their phones with the spyware Pegasus, with some of the attempts claiming to have information on Valdez’s death.
9. Carmen Aristegui (Mexico)
Aristegui Noticias, the media headed by one of Mexico’s best-known reporters, has denounced numerous corruption scandals. Carmen Aristegui was heavily targeted, alongside her son (a minor) with NSO spyware links between 2015 and 2016, according to Citizen Lab.
ten. Ahmed Mansour (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
Well-known political blogger Ahmed Mansoor has been targeted by hackers on several occasions, starting in 2011, when CPJ documented threats and lawsuits related to his blog, researchers report.