Nephew of imprisoned Hotel Rwanda dissident hacked by NSO spyware | Rwanda

The mobile phone of a Belgian citizen who is the nephew of imprisoned Rwandan government critic Paul Rusesabagina, made famous by his portrayal in Hotel Rwanda, was hacked nearly a dozen times in 2020 using a Israeli-made surveillance technology, according to forensic experts at the Citizen Lab.

The findings follow earlier revelations by the Guardian and other media partners of Project Pegasus, an investigation by Israeli group NSO, that Rusesabagina’s daughter, a dual American-Belgian national named Carine Kanimba, was under near-constant surveillance by a customer of the NSO group. from January to mid-2021, when the hacking attack was discovered by researchers at Amnesty International’s Security Lab.

The combined results strongly suggest that the Rwandan government, which has long been suspected of being a client of NSO, deployed a surveillance campaign against Kanimba and his cousin, Jean-Paul Nsonzerumpa, while the two were engaged in discussions with senior European and American officials about Rusesabagina’s case after the activist’s rendition, arrest and trial in Rwanda, and his current imprisonment.

The new development points to a pattern of transnational repression by Rwanda, which has previously been linked to the targeting of at least six dissidents living abroad, including Faustin Rukundo, a British citizen who is a member of a Rwandan opposition group. and lives in exile and out of fear of the Rwandan security services.

Researchers from the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, who are among the world’s experts in detecting the surveillance of activists, journalists and other members of civil society, have found that at least one of the mobile devices de Nsonzerumpa had been infected with NSO’s spyware, which is called Pegasus, in October and November 2020. Once a phone is successfully infected, a Pegasus user can manipulate its camera and microphone, intercept calls, read messages and track a user’s location.

Rusesabagina has sometimes been dubbed “the Schindler of Africa” ​​after being credited with saving over 1,000 people during the Rwandan genocide. After leaving Rwanda, he became a vocal critic of President Paul Kagame and lived in the United States and Belgium until his arrest by the Rwandan government in 2020. After being forcibly returned to Rwanda and charged with charges related to terrorism – which Rusesabagina categorically denies – he is now in prison serving a 25-year sentence.

The US State Department recently called the case a “wrongful detention”. In January, the FBI included Rwanda in a bulletin on transnational repression against US-based victims, noting that Rwandan officials had “lured” Rusesabagina into Rwanda and allegedly targeted the phones of US-based Rwandan dissidents. .

“I watched in horror last year when we discovered that my cousin Carine’s phone had been infected with Pegasus spyware. I felt the need to protect her and our family not knowing that the Rwandan government had also infected my phone and we were not safe at all,” Nsonzerumpa said.

The daughters of Paul Rusesabagina, from left to right, Carine Kanimba, Lys Rusesabagina and Anaiise Kanimba, Carine was found under almost constant surveillance by a client of the NSO group. Photography: Antonio Olmos / The Observer

“Even though the Rwandan government continues to illegally terrorize people everywhere, the United States and the EU seem afraid to confront this dictatorship,” he added.

His cousin, Kanimba, said in an interview: “It does not shock us that his phone was also targeted. It is shocking that they spend so much money and resources on two people in the same household.

Accusations of transnational repression, including by the FBI, do not appear to have halted the British government’s plans to move forward with the Rwandan program for newly arrived asylum seekers.

The plan is to deport asylum seekers in the UK whose claims have been deemed inadmissible by the Home Office and transport them to Rwanda. The Interior Ministry has not publicly shared its criteria for who is sent to Rwanda and who is allowed to stay, but asylum seekers who have been selected so far have had strong asylum applications .

While the British government is changing, the candidates who hope to succeed Boris Johnson all support the Rwandan project. The program ran into major hurdles and the first flight scheduled for June 14 was blocked after an interim ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. A High Court hearing to determine the legality of the Rwandan scheme is due to take place on September 5 and there are unlikely to be any robberies before then.

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In a highly unusual move, Matthew Rycroft CBE, Permanent Secretary to the Home Office, sent a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel on April 13 this year expressing concern about the scheme. He wrote: “I do not think it is possible to obtain sufficient evidence to show that the policy will have a sufficiently large deterrent effect to make the policy worth its money.

Carine Kanimba, Rusesabagina’s daughter, said she was in contact with British officials and representatives, including Dame Helena Kennedy, the lawyer, before the scheme came to light. In a statement, she said the Conservative government had since worked to whitewash Rwanda’s human rights record to make the program more palatable.

Asked about these claims, a spokesperson for NSO Group said: “Politically motivated organizations continue to make unverifiable allegations against NSO in the hope that they will result in an outright ban on all cyber- intelligence, despite their well-documented life-saving successes.”

The NSO has previously said it takes allegations of wrongdoing seriously and investigates cases of possible abuse. The company also said it does not know who its spyware targets once it is in the hands of government customers. He said the spyware is only meant to be used to track serious criminals like terrorists and child sex offenders.

A Rwandan government spokesperson said: “These are false claims. As noted earlier, Rwanda does not have or use this software. Those making these allegations are simply seeking attention, taking advantage of the ongoing campaign to promote misinformation about Rwanda.

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