Amnesty International said the Moroccan authorities’ attacks on its credibility, and the smear campaign against the Amnesty Morocco office in Rabat, show the government’s intolerance of scrutiny and legitimate criticism of their human rights record.
The Moroccan government’s response of undermining Amnesty International after the exposure of its spying activities on its own citizen has been characterized by the rights group as akin to “shooting the messenger”.
The government response came just over a week after the organisation published a report on June 22 exposing how NSO Group spyware was used by the authorities to place independent journalist Omar Radi under unlawful surveillance.
The Moroccan government has falsely accused Amnesty International of failing to offer them the right of reply on the findings of the report, and of fabricating facts and failing to provide evidence to back up the claims made within it.
Amnesty International sent a letter to the Moroccan government standing by its research findings and providing further detail of its research methodology.
The rights group notified the Moroccan authorities on June 09, through an official letter sent via email to five officials at the Ministry of Human Rights, of its intention to publish the report two weeks prior to publication.
The same letter invited the government to provide comment for inclusion in the report. However, no response was received.
“This smear campaign and the false claims made against Amnesty International are an attempt to discredit solid human rights research which has uncovered a series of unlawful surveillance incidents using NSO Group products,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.
“Instead of engaging constructively with the findings in our report, the authorities are choosing to go on the attack against the messenger,” Morayef continued.
“This is not the first time efforts have been made to undermine Amnesty’s work and coincides with a deepening repression within the country. Dozens of human rights activists, independent journalists and protesters are currently in prison and the authorities have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past months to prosecute more critics,” Morayef said.
Unnamed government sources have told the Moroccan media that the government intends to shut down the Amnesty Morocco office in Rabat.
The organisation said its findings are aligned to those of other organizations such as Privacy International and Citizen Lab who have documented the Moroccan government’s purchase and unlawful use of surveillance technology.
The evidence was gathered through technical analysis of Moroccan journalist Omar Radi’s iPhone that revealed traces of “network injection” attacks using Pegasus spyware, surveillance technology produced by the company NSO Group, said Amnesty International.
NSO Group sells its Pegasus spyware exclusively to law enforcement and government agencies.
In addition, the technical evidence the organization’s researchers extracted from Omar Radi’s phone clearly indicate cooperation of mobile operators in the country to wiretap mobile internet connection, which only state authorities could authorise.
This is not the first time that Amnesty International’s work in Morocco has been hampered. In June 2015, two Amnesty International researchers who were investigating the situation for migrants and refugees were expelled from the country despite assurances from the government that the organization could conduct missions with simple notification.
The authorities also blacklisted an Amnesty International staff member who had authored a 2014 report on torture in the country, banning the researcher from travelling to Morocco both for fieldwork and in a personal capacity. In September of the same year, the Moroccan authorities also banned an Amnesty International youth camp.
“The Moroccan authorities have a history of dishing out punitive measures to distract from their dismal human rights record. The irony is that in doing so they are confirming precisely what Amnesty International’s research over the past months has uncovered: the government’s zero tolerance of free expression,” said Heba Morayef. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)