Three months after Emirati activist Alaa Al-Siddiq's death, new evidence has emerged that she was most likely hacked by Pegasus spyware. The 33-year-old activist died in a car accident in Oxford, UK, and no foul play was suspected in her death until now.
Al-Siddiq was executive director of ALQST, a non-profit advocating for human rights in the UAE and wider region. The examination of her electronic devices at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto found that the spyware reached her in 2015, when she lived in Qatar, reported The Guardian.
New findings are backing a concerning trend of activists like Al-Siddiq who moved out of the UAE for relative safety. This is the first time Citizen lab confirmed its findings.
The proprietor of Pegasus, NSO Group has repeatedly stated that their product is meant to be used by governments and law enforcement agencies to investigate crimes. The Israeli company has requested The Guardian to share the numbers Al-Siddiq was using when she was hacked. Two of her mobile numbers were listed in the Pegasus data leak.
Al-Siddiq had learnt of the hack in 2020. She spoke to filmmaker Laura Poitras and researchers at Forensic Architecture, a London-based research group about it. She said that her research involving documenting human rights abuses against prisoners and detainees in Gulf states had likely made her a target.
She used a pseudonym to talk to the research group studying the NSO Group and stated that these are very sensitive topics in her country. "They consider it a crime against the government." She added that she is concerned about the prospect of exposing people whose trust she gained to help her research, reported The Guardian.
During her funeral at Regent's Park Mosque, several of her close friends stayed away fearing that the location was being watched.
Her father Mohammed Al-Siddiq was arrested in UAE in 2012 after signing a pro-democracy petition. After a few months, she left the UAE and moved to Qatar following her entanglement with authorities. In 2015, UAE and Qatar were engaged in a diplomatic dispute after Emirati officials demanded that Doha force her to return home.
Al-Siddiq was stripped of her UAE citizenship and had to leave Qatar. She moved to the UK and worked with the Saudi dissident Yahya Assiri.
The UAE did not respond to the questions about Al-Siddiq's case and its alleged use of spyware. The Citizen Lab confirmed that her mobile phones used in both Qatar and London were hacked by a government.