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A new European challenge to Spain over the country's recurrence to espionage with Pegasus software. A report from the Council of Europe (CoE) equates the Spanish state with Poland, Hungary and Azerbaijan in regard to its use of the surveillance spyware programme. This Friday, a first draft was approved in which CoE members describe Pegasus as a "highly intrusive" tool and say they have "serious doubts" about whether the use of this software, as well as other similar programmes, is compatible with respecting human rights.

The report reveals that Spain is part of the group of 14 European Union countries known to have acquired the Pegasus software. In Spain, at least 65 people linked to the Catalan independence movement were shown to have been spied on using the software, in the so-called Catalangate cases. In accordance with the information that has become known since the case broke out in June 2021, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has requested that Spain inform the Council and its legal advisory body, the Venice Commission, about the use of Pegasus and other similar espionage systems, within a maximum period of three months.

Independent and effective investigation

Up till now, the Spanish authorities have only recognized the espionage against 18 people who were spied on under a court order, including the current Catalan president Pere Aragonès and leader in exile Carles Puigdemont. The Council of Europe demands that Spain initiate an "immediate, independent and effective" investigation into these confirmed cases, as well as compensate the damage suffered by those spied on for the "illegal abuse" they underwent. In addition, it calls for sanctions to be applied to organizations that have made "inappropriate use" of the program. Finally, it calls on the Spanish state to facilitate access to information to certain authorities so that progress can be made in the related investigations.

In relation to human rights, which are not respected when the espionage takes place, and given the concerns that this raises, the human rights institution requires Spain to provide reparations to victims in cases where "illegal abuse" has been confirmed. In addition, it urges Spain to "refrain from using blanket secrecy rules" to deny access to information.



More pressure on Spain

The senator and sole Catalan pro-independence member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Laura Castel, has described the approved draft as "very important" because it "increases the pressure on the state to carry out an effective investigation into Catalangate". In this respect, Castel celebrated that the report was approved by the assembly with a very large majority and urged Spain "to comply with all international resolutions that are calling on it to respond over the illegal espionage with Pegasus". Once the first draft has been approved, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will vote on it again in its entirety at its next plenary session, which will be held between October 9th and 13th.