LONDON – They thought they’d found refuge in Britain.
Then they got hacked.
On Monday three Arab pro-democracy activists went public with the allegation that the electronic tentacles of Bahrain’s government had followed them all the way to Britain. It’s one of a growing number of cases in which refugees say repressive governments have used malicious software to keep tabs on overseas activists.
“I thought I was safe here in Britain, but the Bahraini government is monitoring me here,” Moosa Abd-Ali Ali said in comments carried by London-based Privacy International, which is filing a criminal complaint on behalf of him and two other activists, Jaafar Al Hasabi and Saeed Al-Shehabi.
The complaint, which draws on documents recently leaked to the Internet, alleges that Bahrain’s government deployed FinFisher, a powerful espionage program, to break into their computers beginning in 2010 or even earlier.
Bahrain, a tiny island nation ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy, has since been rocked by unrest spearheaded by the country’s Shiite majority, who are trying to pry greater rights from the royal family. Researchers and journalists have long documented the kingdom’s interest in surveillance technology.
Bahrain’s embassy said it had no immediate comment on the allegations. British law enforcement officials also offered no immediate comment.
Privacy International’s complaint is the latest in a series of allegations of cross-border hacking by repressive governments. Similar action has been taken on behalf of Ethiopian refugees living in Britain and the United States.
In a press statement, Privacy International suggested that the hacking was particularly insidious because it targeted refugees, saying that Al-Shehabiwas “deeply concerned” when he found out he been subjected to surveillance.
“It made him feel defenceless in the very place that he had sought asylum in.”
Privacy International: https://www.privacyinternational.org/
Raphael Satter can be reached at: https://twitter.com/razhael