Saudi dissident sues own govt. in UK court over alleged hacking


A British high court has given the green light to satirist Ghanem Al Masarir, a prominent Saudi dissident living in London, to file a lawsuit against the Saudi Arabian government after he claimed he was a victim of its sophisticated hacking campaign.

Lawyers for Almasarir, who is believed to live under police protection in the UK, said the decision to allow them to serve the claim against Saudi Arabia showed he had an “arguable” and legitimate case.

“This is a rare case brought in this country against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and we are pleased that the court has agreed that given the circumstances in this case, the targeting of an individual while he was living in the UK, they are prepared to enable us to serve the formal proceedings on the Saudi Government,” his lawyer, Martyn Day, of the firm Leigh Day said.

The development comes days after the Guardian reported that Jeff Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, may have been the victim of an alleged hack triggered after receiving a WhatsApp message that had apparently been sent from the personal account of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

According to an analysis of the billionaire’s mobile phone, the hack seems to have been connected to a malicious file sent to him by Mohammed bin Salman in May, 2018.

Saudi Arabia has said the revelations were “absurd”.

Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, and David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, have called for an immediate investigation into the reported surveillance of Bezos by the US and other relevant authorities.

Almasarir is a human rights activist and satirist who regularly pokes fun at the Saudi royal family and, in particular, the crown prince.

The 39-year-old shares his opinions through his YouTube channel, the Ghanem Show, which has had more than 300m views.The satire is believed to have made him an enemy in the eyes of the Saudi government, which has been accused in the lawsuit of orchestrating a hack against two of Al Masarir’s phones on 23 June 2018.

The alleged hacks occurred about two months after the alleged May 01 targeting of Bezos.

In a letter of claim to the Saudi embassy in May last year, his lawyers said: “A vast amount of Mr Al Masarir’s private information was stored and communicated on his iPhones … This included information relating to his personal life, his family, his relationships, his health, his finances, and private matters relating to his work promoting human rights in Saudi Arabia.”

According to the letter, Al Masarir’s phones were examined by independent experts at Citizen Lab, which tracks the use of cyber weapons and allegedly confirmed that the satirist had been sent malicious texts that were “associated” with spyware.

Citizen Lab concluded with a “high degree of confidence” that Saudi Arabia was the ultimate party behind the hack.

The high court ruled that Al Masarir’s lawyers could serve their claim form at the ministry of foreign affairs in Riyadh.

Almasarir has lived in London since 2003 and has said he has lived under police protection since October 31, 2018, just a few weeks after Khashoggi was murdered.

The Saudi government did not immediately return a request for comment. It has previously not responded to questions about the lawsuit. (Source: The Guardian)