Spain’s PM Pedro Sánchez has justified the mass espionage of the Catalan pro-independence movement and has shown his contempt towards the prestigious Canadian organization, Citizen Lab, which uncovered the scandal.
“It was done with full respect for the law,” he insisted. According to him, the Spanish government has always acted in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, though facts prove the contrary. This was his excuse to refuse an independent investigation into the matter.
Regarding the Citizen Lab report, Sánchez said that he had reasonable doubts: “The great majority of mobiles have been intervened by unknown actors and aliens to the Spanish government.” According to him, Citizen Lab has been unable to identify the author of the attacks, though the Pegasus spyware is only used by states and the Spanish intelligence has admitted its regular use against the pro-independence movement.
The Spanish state via unionist parties has launched an offensive against Catalan exiles and MEPs. The Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament, led by Adrián Vázquez from Spain’s extremist party C’s, announced that it could not verify the MEP credentials of exiles Carles Puigdemont, Clara Ponsatí, Toni Comin, as well as Jordi Solé. He asked for Spain’s Electoral authority, which is under influence of the far-right, to make a decision on the matter. However, Vázquez himself admitted that, for the time being, practical problems would not be an issue for them to continue doing their jobs as MEPs.
“The European Parliament has yet to receive any notification and documentation from Spain to prove the four civilians meet the requirements to get the credentials,” he said
The most surprising part of Vázquez’s explanation is that the decision of what should happen to the four MEPs is in the hands of Spain’s electoral authority because they did not swear in the constitution. This is a statement completely contrary to the doctrine of the Court of Justice of the EU set out in the ruling on Oriol Junqueras in December 2019, according to which an MEP has the full status when proclaimed an elected member, without state electoral endorsement. The sentence was ratified by the General Tribunal of the EU, and it was added that the oath of the Spanish constitution was not necessary. This is why the then President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, opened the doors to all four.
The Spanish government has refused to dismiss the ministers who were behind the massive espionage of Catalan pro-independence leaders, lawyers, activists, and the general public. Instead, it has dismissed the head of the intelligence service (CNI), Paz Esteban, who was acting upon the orders of the Spanish executive office. The move comes a few days after Esteban admitted that authorities had spied on Catalan pro-independence leaders.
The decision intended as a smokescreen for the big scandal was taken during a regular meeting, under the guise that it was a replacement.
Catalan government: Esteban’s dismissal “not enough”
According to Patrícia Plaja, a spokesperson for the Catalan government, “The change at the head of the Spanish intelligence services does not resolve everything and does not bring an end to the issue. Anyone who believed it was mistaken. It is not enough.” She also called for an investigation to find out who allowed the spying, who ordered it, and who knew about it.”
Minister Robles did not share the reason for Esteban’s removal and thanked her for her work as a director of the intelligence services. The defense minister has also received calls from pro-independence parties to step down, but maintains that she will continue to “serve Spain” as she has done for the last four years,” and that she will act guided by “respect for the rule of law” and “empathy.”
Catalangate is the name given by the Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto-based research group that reports on high-tech human rights abuses, to its investigation into the espionage against several Catalan pro-independence politicians, activists, and their close associates. It is “the largest forensically documented cluster of such attacks and infections on record,” the Yorker magazine.
The use of Pegasus spyware against Europeans, Catalan leaders, human right defenders, lawyers, activists, and the general public has caused over 30 international human rights and civil liberties organizations to have expressed their rejection of the practice.
The organizations said that digital espionage is not “legal or democratic” and an independent investigation is needed to provide clarity.
“The software intercepts all the contents of the device; all apps used and when; as well as geolocation data,” explained Anaïs Franquesa, a human rights lawyer for Irídia.
The groups also called for proper regulation of Spain’s National Intelligence Center (CNI), criticizing the current rules as “vague, indefinite,” and falling short of “the standards of international human rights law.”
Gervanosi, the director of the international institute for nonviolent action NovAct, issued a warning about the widespread use of this technology. “The use of this technology is a flagrant violation of the right to privacy, brings a great deal of vulnerability to victims and involves the violation of the right to [legal] defense and professional secrecy in certain cases.”
The EU commissioner of Justice, Didier Reynders, met with the far-right organization Catalan Civil Society (SCC) in December 2021 without being registered in the Transparency Register of the EU, which is a violation of EU regulations.
The EU internal code of conduct prohibits commissioners from meeting with organizations that are not registered.
The code of conduct
“Commissioners and members of their cabinet may only meet with those organizations or autonomous individuals that are registered in the Transparency Register (…) to the extent that they fall within its scope,” says Article 7. of code of conduct of the community executive.
The Transparency Register is a database that includes; stakeholders, organizations, associations, groups, and self-employed people who carry out activities to influence EU policy and decision-making.