NEW YORK – October 1, 2021 – Investigative journalist Omar Radi, who has been targeted by surveillance spyware and who Moroccan authorities sentenced to six years in prison in July 2021, tops the October ranking of the One Free Press Coalition’s “10 Most Urgent” list of press freedom cases. The “10 Most Urgent” list, issued today by a united group of pre-eminent editors and publishers, spotlights journalists whose press freedoms are being suppressed or whose cases are seeking justice.
In light of growing reporting that reveals the extent to which spyware is being used to surveil journalists by governments who are weaponizing technology, the October list highlights journalists who have fallen victim to surveillance or been targeted byspyware. These cases – and the many others like them – pose a threat to press freedom everywhere. Also notable on this month’s list is Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi operatives nearly two years ago on October 2 following a spyware attack.
While the surveillance of journalists is not a new phenomenon, the lengths to which bad actors will go to silence the press and the rapid advancement of technology have exacerbated the problem. Around the world, governments have used sophisticated spyware products designed to combat crime to target the press. Journalists say spyware has the potential to expose and imperil themselves or their sources and reveal other private information that could be used to censor or obstruct their work. Journalists can find CPJ resources on digital safety here and more reporting on spyware and press freedom here.
Published this morning at www.onefreepresscoalition.com and by all Coalition members, the 32nd “10 Most Urgent” list includes the following journalists, ranked in order of urgency:
1. Omar Radi (Morocco)
Since 2018, Moroccan authorities have filed sex crime charges against multiple independent journalists in the country in an effort to target them for their reporting. Investigative journalist Omar Radi is one of 180 journalists identified by nonprofit Forbidden Stories as targeted by surveillance spyware. This past July, he was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of sexual assault and undermining state security through espionage and illegally receiving foreign funding.
2. Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan)
A prominent investigative journalist, Khadija Ismayilova is known for her exposés of high-level government corruption and alleged ties between President Ilham Aliyev’s family and businesses. She was sentenced to prison in 2014 and served 538 days before her release. In a forensic analysis of her phone, Amnesty International detected multiple traces of activity that it linked to Pegasus spyware, dating from 2019 to 2021.
3. Sevinj Vagifgizi (Azerbaijan)
Sevinj Vagifgizi, a correspondent for the Berlin-based, Azerbaijan-focused independent media outlet Meydan TV, was targeted by Pegasus spyware from 2019 to 2021. She had been in Azerbaijani authorities’ crosshairs previously and banned from leaving the country from 2015 to 2019. In 2019, she faced libel charges after she reported on people voting with government-issued pre-filled ballots.
4. Szabolcs Panyi (Hungary)
Reports find that, in 2019, Pegasus spyware by President Viktor Orbán’s administration targeted Szabolcs Panyi – among five other Hungarian journalists – as conditions for independent journalism became increasingly grim in the country. Panyi is a journalist at Direkt36.hu, known for reporting on issues like government corruption.
5. Ricardo Calderón (Colombia)
Throughout 2019 and 2020, Ricardo Calderón, then director of the investigative team at news magazine Semana, was the target of threats, harassment and surveillance related to reporting on the Colombian military, including efforts to monitor journalists. This year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruled that Calderón faced “grave and imminent” danger from threats and surveillance by the Colombian military and other sources.
6. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (India)
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a journalist and author, has faced protracted criminal and civil defamation suits, and was recently threatened with arrest. Amnesty International detected forensic indications connected to Pegasus spyware from early 2018 on his phone, when he had been writing about political parties using social media for political campaigning and investigating a wealthy Indian business family’s foreign assets.
7. Jamal Khashoggi (Saudi Arabia)
Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto team studying media, security and human rights, found that Pegasus spyware had infected the phone of Saudi Arabian dissident Omar Abdulaziz, who was in close contact with Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi before his murder by Saudi operatives. Research has found that family and colleagues of journalists are often targets of surveillance. This October 2nd marks two years since Jamal was killed.
8. Ismael Bojórquez and Andrés Villarreal (Mexico)
After Javier Valdez Cárdenas, founder of Mexican outlet Río Doce, was murdered in 2017, Río Doce’s director and his colleague received infection attempts to their phones with Pegasus spyware, with some of the attempts claiming to have information about Valdez’s death.
9. Carmen Aristegui (Mexico)
Aristegui Noticias, the outlet run by one of Mexico’s most widely known reporters, has exposed numerous corruption scandals. Carmen Aristegui has been heavily targeted, alongside her son (a minor) with NSO spyware links between 2015-2016, according to Citizen Lab.
10. Ahmed Mansoor (UAE)
Researchers report that prominent political blogger Ahmed Mansoor has been targeted by hackers multiple times, starting in 2011, when CPJ documented threats and legal action in connection with his blog.
The One Free Press Coalition is comprised of 32 prominent international members including: Agencia Efe; Al Jazeera Media Network, AméricaEconomía; The Associated Press; Bloomberg News; The Boston Globe; Corriere Della Sera; De Standaard; Deutsche Welle; Estadão; EURACTIV; The Financial Times; Forbes; Fortune; HuffPost; India Today; Insider Inc.; Le Temps; Middle East Broadcasting Networks; Office of Cuba Broadcasting; Quartz; Radio Free Asia; Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty; Republik; Reuters; The Straits Times; Süddeutsche Zeitung; TIME; TV Azteca; Voice of America; The Washington Post; and Yahoo News.
One Free Press Coalition partners with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) to identify the most-urgent cases for the list, which is updated and published on the first business day of every month.
The mission of the Coalition is to use the collective voices of its members – which reach more than 1 billion people worldwide – to “stand up for journalists under attack for pursuing the truth.” News organizations throughout the world can join the Coalition by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Members of the public are also encouraged to join the conversation using the hashtag #OneFreePress and following developments on Twitter @OneFreePress.
One Free Press Coalition
The One Free Press Coalition every month spotlights the “10 Most Urgent” journalists who press freedoms are under threat worldwide. The Coalition uses the collective voices of participating news organizations to spotlight brave journalists whose voices are being silenced or have been silenced by “standing up for journalists under attack for pursing the truth.” To see the “10 Most Urgent” list every month and to view a complete list of participating news organizations and supporting partners, please visit onefreepresscoalition.com or @OneFreePress on Twitter.
One Free Press Coalition PR: email@example.com
Committee to Protect Journalists: Bebe Santa-Wood, firstname.lastname@example.org