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The United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Free Speech and Executions released a communication to the Government of Saudi Arabia alleging that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was personally involved in a coordinating hacking campaign against Jezz Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and the owner of the Washington Post. The European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) strongly condemns the Saudi hacking action, which ESOHR considers a reprehensible assault against free speech.
In the communication, the Rapporteurs state that their concerns are based on forensic evidence made available to them indicating that the Crown Prince had sent a video file to Mr. Bezos on 4 April 2018 that installed an Italian-developed surveillance program on his phone. The program secretly recorded Mr. Bezos’ activity on his phone for months, submitting it back to the Saudi government, which used it in a “massive online campaign against Mr. Bezos” and his companies.
The hacking campaign was allegedly directed in retaliation against Mr. Bezos’ activity with his newspaper, the Washington Post. The Post has recently published negative coverage of the Kingdom following the Saudi assassination of one of its contributing journalists, Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. A separate UN investigation led by the Rapporteur on Executions implicated the Crown Prince in Khashoggi’s assassination, as well.
The Rapporteurs stated that, if true, the allegations would represent violations of the rights of free expression and privacy, and would reinforce concerns about the role that electronic surveillance and played in Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.
“The hacking of Mr. Bezos’ phone, directed by Crown Prince bin Salman himself, represents an unprecedented and unacceptable reprisal against the journalistic investigations conducted by the Washington Post,” said ESOHR. “Saudi Arabia has long been comfortable attacking the rights of its own citizens. That it would move so openly against the rights of its international critics is a very worrying escalation.”
The communication was sent to the Saudi government on 17 January 2020, but only published this week. As of writing, the Government of Saudi Arabia had not responded to the allegations. The United Nations provides governments several months to respond to communications prior to publishing. The government may still respond at any time.
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