WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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27 Mar 2018 | Press Release

Members of Congress Call for Serious and Impartial Investigation into Mexico Spyware Attacks

Washington, D.C.—In a letter to Mexican Ambassador Gerónimo Gutiérrez, sponsored by Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and made public today, 11 Members of Congress expressed concern for the lack of progress in the Mexican government’s investigation into the illegal use of government-exclusive Pegasus spyware against prominent activists and journalists in Mexico. The letter comes after the New York Times reported in February that U.S. officials had allegedly rejected the Mexican government’s requests to assist in the investigation, out of concern that U.S. participation would give the appearance of legitimacy to an inquiry that otherwise lacks credibility.

“Over eight months into the spyware investigation, no serious progress has been made. It’s clear that Mexican authorities are not committed to getting to the bottom of this case and bringing the perpetrators to justice,” said Maureen Meyer, Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a leading research and advocacy organization. “As Mexico’s human rights crisis deepens and corruption scandals continue to be uncovered, the work of journalists and human rights defenders is more important than ever. Yet the Mexican government has shown little interest in preventing and addressing attacks against media workers and advocates, especially when the victims are critical of the government.”

In February, the victims of the spyware attacks and the civil society organizations accompanying them released a statement highlighting several basic lines of investigation that Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) has yet to pursue in the case. These include, among others, identifying and interviewing the public officials responsible for managing the Pegasus technology, examining the servers that contain records of each time the spyware has been used against a target, or even visiting the facilities where the spyware is operated.

In the letter to the Mexican ambassador, Members of Congress call for a serious and impartial investigation into the spyware attacks. “We believe that it is imperative that the Government of Mexico carry out a serious, transparent, thorough, and impartial investigation into the illegal use of spyware, and bring to justice any public official or government agency involved in the matter,” reads the letter. The letter goes on to request that the Mexican ambassador provide the Members of Congress with “information regarding the Government of Mexico’s plans to address the concerns of the spyware victims, guarantee that all lines of investigation outlined above are exhausted, and ensure that victims and their lawyers are kept informed of the progress in the case.”

In December 2017, 10 Members of Congress issued a letter to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, expressing concern about the spyware case and the overall deteriorating security situation for activists and journalists in Mexico. “These spyware attacks come in the context of an increasingly concerning situation for human rights defenders and journalists in Mexico…. Attacks against criticism and dissent of the Mexican government this past year have increased in number, gravity, and sophistication,” the letter states.

“With presidential elections just around the corner in Mexico, it is paramount that the outgoing and incoming administrations commit to improving investigations into crimes and attacks against journalists and human rights defenders,” said Meyer. “This includes devising specific plans to strengthen the Mexican justice system’s capacity to properly investigate and sanction these attacks, as the failure to do so sends the message that the perpetrators can threaten, attack, and even kill with impunity.”