France-Palestine/Salah Hammouri: Judicial investigation opened targeting NSO group

Abbas Momani / AFP

Paris, 11 July 2022 — Following their joint complaint filed in April 2022, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the French Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH), and French-Palestinian human rights defender and lawyer Salah Hammouri received confirmation last week that the Paris Prosecutor has opened a judicial investigation into Israeli cyber intelligence company NSO Group’s illegal infiltration of Mr Hammouri’s phone.

“We commend this prompt reaction from the Paris Prosecutor and hope that this judicial investigation, led by an independent investigative judge, will shed light on the NSO Group’s illegitimate use of technologies in violation of human rights laws and French criminal law,” said Emmanuel Daoud, Clémence Bectarte, and Patrick Baudouin, who filed the complaint in April 2022 on behalf of FIDH, LDH, and Salah Hammouri.

Mr Hammouri, who since 7 March is detained in Israel under the administrative detention regime, now has the right to become a civil party in the judicial proceedings opened in France, and to exercise all rights attached to this status under French criminal law.

“On behalf of the Justice for Salah coalition’s campaign, we commend the decision of the Prosecutor of Paris for taking this important step against the NSO company. It aligns with our calls for accountability to prevent human rights violations, especially those against human rights defenders like our colleague and lawyer Salah Hammouri,” said Shawan Jabarin, Al-Haq’s general director.

Our organisations call on French authorities to vigorously work to obtain the immediate release of Mr Hammouri, who holds French and Palestinian citizenship.

Background information
In October 2021, Mr Hammouri contacted Front Line Defenders to examine his phone after learning that other Palestinian human rights defenders’ phones had been infiltrated. Front Line concluded its investigation by November 2021, and The Citizen Lab and Amnesty International confirmed the findings.

The investigation revealed that the phones of Mr Hammouri and other Palestinian human rights defenders were hacked using Pegasus spyware, which is manufactured by NSO Group. The investigation confirmed that Mr Hammouri’s phone was infiltrated in April 2021. In December 2021, Mr Hammouri approached FIDH to represent him in filing a legal complaint against NSO Group, which had been using this spyware illegally to hack and infiltrate his phone, and through it, his entire professional and personal life, thereby depriving him of certain rights, including his right to privacy.

Mr Hammouri has been the subject of Israeli persecution since the age of 15, when he sustained a bullet injury in 2000. He was first arrested at the age of 16 and has faced continuous harassment by Israeli authorities for his human rights work ever since. This includes six periods of imprisonment and arbitrary arrests, several travel bans, exorbitant bail and fines, house arrests, separation from his family, and residency revocation. He is facing an imminent threat of deportation and most recently, on 6 June 2022, was subjected to another illegal administrative detention for another three months and subject to indefinite renewals in line with the emergency regulations applied by the Israeli military commander in the West Bank.

On 18 October 2021, Israel’s minister of interior issued a decision to revoke Mr Hammouri’s permanent Jerusalem residence card. The decision is based on Mr Hammouri’s alleged “breach of allegiance to the State of Israel” and on vaguely worded and poorly defined allegations of "terrorist activities" and/or affiliation with "terrorist entities," relating to "secret information." If this measure is implemented, it would mean that Mr Hammouri, who was born in Jerusalem in 1985 and has lived there his entire life, would be permanently expelled from his country of origin and centre of life without being able to return. It would also set an extremely dangerous legal precedent that could be used systematically by Israeli authorities to revoke the residencies of Palestinian Jerusalemites in their attempt to empty Jerusalem of its Palestinian population.

NSO Group has been facing several lawsuits around the world for its illegitimate use of technologies in violation of human rights laws and principles. Several NGOs, including FIDH, urged the European Union to put NSO Group on its global sanction list and take all appropriate action to prohibit the sale, transfer, export, import, and use of NSO Group technologies until adequate human rights safeguards are in place. It is vital that when businesses abuse human rights, adequate sanctions and measures are adopted, and that victims have a right to remedy for any violations. As FIDH has repeatedly advocated, any regulation in this sense at the European level should apply to all businesses, including companies operating in the technology sector.

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