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Human rights groups concerned about surveillance in El Salvador

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele speaks during a deployment ceremony for the Territorial Control plan and army officers' graduation at the Captain Gerardo Barrios Military Academy in Antiguo Cuscatlan, El Salvador December 15, 2021. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

SAN SALVADOR, Jan 31, 2022 (Reuters) - International human rights groups called on Monday for authorities in El Salvador to open an investigation into allegations that journalists and activists had their phones hacked and implanted with the sophisticated spyware Pegasus.

In mid-January, The Citizen Lab, which studies spyware at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, released a report saying that the cell phones of nearly three dozen journalists and activists, several of whom were investigating alleged state corruption, have been hacked since mid-2020 with the Israeli-designed spyware.

In response, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RELE), and the Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for Central America and the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean (OHCHR) released a joint statement on Monday calling for a probe into the findings.

"(We) urge the State to investigate the reported facts effectively and impartially, and ensure the protection of the integrity of the victims," the statement said.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele's government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Last week, Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado said he would investigate the allegations, without elaborating.

The Bukele government has said that El Salvador was not a client of NSO Group Technologies, the Israeli company that developed Pegasus.

NSO, which has long kept its client list confidential, has declined to comment on whether El Salvador was a Pegasus customer. The company has said that it sells its products only to "vetted and legitimate" intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The logo of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group is seen at one of its branches in the Arava Desert, southern Israel July 22, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Sandra Maler

© Reuters 2022

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