Activists remain in detention, as Reuters uncover collusion between authorities and hackers
On 31st December 2018, human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor’s ten-year prison sentence was upheld by the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court. As previously reported on the Monitor, on 29th May 2018, Mansoor was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment after using his twitter handle to publish tweets calling for the release of human rights defenders and to expose human rights violations in Yemen and Egypt. Mansoor, who has been in detention since March 2017 had appealed the sentence as UN experts also condemned the conviction.
Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith, academic and human rights defender also remains in detention as his health deteriorates. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Dr. Bin Ghaith has been suffering from chronic symptoms of fatigue and can’t even walk or use his feet. He also has difficulties breathing and he has lost a lot of weight. The prison authorities in Al-Razeen prison continue to deny Dr Bin Ghaith his necessary medication. As previously reported on the Monitor, Bin Ghaith was arrested in August 2015 during a raid on his home and was charged for allegedly “committing a hostile act against a foreign state” in reference to statements he made on Twitter about the authorities and judicial system in Egypt. He was also charged with “posting false information in order to harm the reputation and stature of the state and one of its institutions” relating to other statements he made on Twitter.
A Reuters investigative report uncovered a deeply concerning collaboration between hackers who have previously worked for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and the United Arab Emirate’s State Security Apparatus (SSA). On 30th January 2019, Reuters revealed that Project Raven, a clandestine group of hackers, have been using their knowledge and tools to allegedly aid the UAE government in engage in surveillance of other governments, militants and human rights activists critical of the monarchy.
According to the report, a team of former U.S. government intelligence operatives working for the UAE hacked into the iPhones of activists, diplomats and rival foreign leaders with the help of a sophisticated spying tool called Karma, “in a campaign that shows how potent cyber-weapons are proliferating beyond the world’s superpowers and into the hands of smaller nations”.
Project Raven developed Karma, a tool that grants them remote access to iPhones simply by uploading phone numbers or email accounts into an automated targeting system, successfully hacked the accounts of hundreds of prominent Middle East political figures and activists across the region as well as nationals of the European Union and the U.S. Among those targeted were at least four journalists, including British journalist Rori Donaghy, who has contributed to The Guardian and three U.S. journalists who were not named in the report.