PROMINENT Catalan pro-independence figures including presidents of Catalunya and members of the European Parliament have been spied on using technology only available to state actors, a cybersecurity group has said.

Canada-based The Citizen Lab, which had its findings verified by Amnesty International’s Tech Lab, found that Pegasus spyware had been used on at least 65 Catalan figures.

These included the former Catalan presidents Quim Torra and Artur Mas, and current president Pere Aragonès.

Pegasus, a spyware from the Israeli company NSO Group, is sold exclusively to governments to carry out surveillance through infecting phones with malicious software.

The Citizen Lab said that, while it was not “conclusively attributing the operations to a specific entity … strong circumstantial evidence suggests a nexus with Spanish authorities”.

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A senior researcher with the lab, John Scott Railton, told a press conference on Tuesday: “We've seen a lot of evidence that points at Spanish authorities, considering who the victims are, the timing and circumstances of the attacks. There is a clear nexus. It would be highly unlikely that a non-Spanish agent would be behind such a massive attack."

The conference was held outside the European Parliament, where a Committee of Inquiry held its first meeting into breaches of EU law associated with the use of Pegasus and equivalent spyware.

Reuters reported last week that senior EU figures including the European Justice Commissioner had been targeted with NSO Group’s Pegasus.

Elisenda Paluzie, the president of the Catalan National Assembly, a grassroots pro-independence organisation with more than 100,000 members, also spoke alongside Railton at the press conference.

Paluzie (below), together with Xavier Antich, president of another major Catalan civil society organization, Òmnium Cultural, as well as representatives of the three main Catalan pro-independence parties, Carles Riera (CUP), Oriol Junqueras (Esquerra Republicana) and Carles Puigdemont (Junts per Catalunya), warned of the grave implications of this case.

The National: Elisenda Paluzie, president of the Catalan National Assembly pictured at Civic House in Glasgow. She was speaking at the event Scotland and Catalonia: The Struggle for independence in contemporary Europe. Greg Russell, a writer at the National was

Paluzie said: "We have been victims of the largest case of illegal espionage in Europe and the world using Pegasus spyware.

“In the face of all these grievances and attacks on the people of Catalonia, from civil society we believe in the need for a strong response from all pro-independence groups, aimed at cutting ties with Spanish nationalist parties.

“The presidents of Assemblea and Òmnium Cultural were imprisoned by the Spanish authorities for organizing peaceful demonstrations and both organizations have been spied on with Pegasus, a flagrant violation of our rights to free speech, freedom of assembly and association.”

As well as Paluzie being a confirmed target of the Pegasus spyware, Catalan journalist Meritxell Bonet’s phone was hacked in June 2019. She was targeted in the final days of a Supreme Court case against her husband Jordi Cuixart, a former president of Òmnium Cultural.

The full report and list of targets from The Citizens Lab can be found on their website.

Amnesty International’s Likhita Banerji said: “We urge the European Parliament Committee of Inquiry to leave no stone unturned when documenting the human rights violations enabled by unlawful spyware, including by investigating these new revelations.

“Governments around the globe have not done enough to investigate or stop human rights violations caused by invasive spyware like Pegasus. The use, sale and transfer of this surveillance technology must be temporarily halted to prevent further abuses of human rights.”

The news comes after The Citizen Lab also reported that Downing Street and Foreign Office computer systems had been targeted by the Pegasus spyware, with the Downing Street attacks linked to operators in the UAE.

A spokesperson for NSO Group said previously: "NSO continues to be targeted by a number of politically motivated advocacy organizations, like Citizens Labs and Amnesty, to produce inaccurate and unsubstantiated reports based on vague and incomplete information.

"We have repeatedly co-operated with governmental investigations, where credible allegations merit."