Moroccan PM says Amnesty has yet to provide evidence about spyware allegations

El Othmani says country is open to ‘constructive dialogue.’
Saturday 11/07/2020
A file picture of Moroccan Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani delivering a speech at the Parliament in Rabat. (AFP)
A file picture of Moroccan Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani delivering a speech at the Parliament in Rabat. (AFP)

RABAT – Tension between Morocco and Amnesty International came to the fore once again on Friday, with Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani saying that  the international watchdog has not provided evidence yet to support its allegations that Rabat used spyware to bug a journalist’s phone.

“We, in the Moroccan government, are still insisting on being provided with a copy of the report of scientific expertise that was adopted to make these unfounded accusations, or on the report being made public,” El Othmani told Morocco’s state media.

He added that Morocco, which has adopted a “responsible and transparent” approach, based only on scientific evidence, remains open to “constructive dialogue.”

The Moroccan Prime Minister views that his country’s approach in dealing with the issue was more appropriate than “issuing a report full of expressions referring to hypotheses that contradict the standards of scientific expertise, which makes of the judgments contained in the report, in the form of assertion, mere expressions that lack any scientific basis to prove the association of the supposed breaches of specific phones in Morocco.”

In late June, it was rumoured that the Moroccan government was about to close Amnesty International’s office in the country – which, on the other hand, has very little presence, as the authorities had banned much of its activities.

However, Friday’s statement showed that El Othmani’s government was ready for dialogue provided that  Amnesty presents “evidence to establish its accusations, or otherwise corrects its position as a sign of good faith to restore confidence,” he said.

Earlier in June, Amnesty said Moroccan authorities used software developed by Israeli security firm NSO to insert spyware onto the cell-phone of Omar Radi.

The Pegasus software can switch on the phone’s camera and microphone as well as access data.

Rabat is still investigating if Radi received foreign funding for intelligence services.

Radi, who was questioned by police on suspicion of receiving funds linked to intelligence activities, dismissed the allegations about his involvement in such activities as “ridiculous.”

Amnesty said he had been “systematically targeted by the Moroccan authorities due to his journalism and activism.”

Morocco “does not have at its disposal NSO technology,” a senior government official said on condition of anonymity, referring to the Israeli security firm.

In trying to clear its reputation of the allegations made by Amnesty International, Morocco finds itself confronted by a media and communication campaign in which the accuser has the benefit of the doubt and is in no rush to provide credible evidence of its charges, which are circumstantial and based on theoretical hypotheses.

Amnesty’s local director, Mohamed Sektaoui, was summoned by authorities and asked to provide evidence as soon as possible.

Moroccan officials and media commentators have speculated that the allegations are part of a smear campaign targeting the country’s reputation or are aimed at marketing spyware and other intelligence technologies to Morocco.

They say such manipulations are likely to lead nowhere, and the human rights organisation’s own reputation could be the first to suffer.

They add that the North African country, credited by Western security and intelligence agencies with impressive successes in identifying terrorism threats and alerting its foreign partners to them, is unlikely to be drawn into a technology acquisition spree.

For weeks, speculation has continued to swirl in Morocco about the reasons for what officials see as an unjustified hostile campaign against the kingdom, its timing and the possible actors involved in it.