Morocco calls accusations of spying by Amnesty International "unfounded "

The Alaouite Executive has once again demanded proof of the alleged development of these illicit activities
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Morocco, Nasser Bourita

AFP/FADEL SENNA  -   The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Morocco, Nasser Bourita

The Pan-Hispanic Dictionary of Legal Spanish defines espionage as "that activity dedicated to obtaining, in a hidden or fraudulent manner, reserved or secret information".  During the last weeks, this activity has opened old wounds of the past between the organization Amnesty International and the Government of Morocco.  AI accused the Alawite kingdom last June of spying on journalist Omar Radi after hacking into his phone with a programme provided by an Israeli company. Since then, the Rabat government has denied these accusations and has demanded that Amnesty International provide the necessary evidence.  The latest chapter in this confrontation is led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccans Living Abroad, Nasser Bourita, who has criticised the organisation for "failing in its duty of neutrality and objectivity". 

The Moroccan diplomat also described these accusations as "unfounded" and assured that instead of engaging in a dynamic of dialogue, AI had carried out "a real media campaign, misleading several media and journalists", according to the MAP news agency. "This is huge and totally false. We reject these accusations unequivocally," he said. 

In an interview with the Swiss newspaper 'Tribune de Genève' he regretted Amnesty International's decision to "link Morocco in its document with the Israeli company NSO".  Nasser Bourita insisted that there is no evidence to establish and prove any link. "They claim that only states can hack into phones using the networks they control through the phone operators. But today, devices that can mimic the signal of networks and hack into mobile phones are sold online," he said. 

Since the submission of this report, the Moroccan government has repeatedly urged Amnesty International to provide evidence of this alleged spying.  For example, less than a week ago, Prime Minister Saadeddine El Othmani asked the organization to provide him with "a copy of the scientific expertise report (of the phone) or to make it public" as he considered his allegations "devoid of any scientific foundation". According to the government, the organization's deputy secretary general has opted not to answer the questions. "What we expected was a detailed report supporting the allegations of espionage. We asked for access to the chain of traceability of the phone in question, including software and hardware, so that the competent Moroccan authorities could carry out their counter-investigation in the proper manner. Because a lot of work is needed to understand how the piracy could have taken place," said Nasser Bourita.

El primer ministro de Marruecos, Saad-Eddine El Othmani
AFP/BERTRAND GUAY – Moroccan Prime Minister Saadeddine El Othmani

Since 2014, Rabat has criticized Amnesty International's "fixation" with Morocco, complaining that the organization has devoted up to 72 reports to condemning the country's activities in the Maghreb. In response, Amnesty said in its latest report that the North African nation had already resorted to telephone tapping technologies in the past. In June, the organization published a document on the alleged use of spying programs produced by the Israeli company NSO Group to control the activist and journalist Omar Radi, known to work for several national and international media such as Atlantic Radio or TelQuel. However, Morocco denied these accusations claiming that it has never had a relationship with NSO Group, the company in charge of designing this type of software.

"If someone listens to our citizens, especially if this someone is from abroad, we need to know who it is. Today, it is clear that Amnesty is not in a position to provide even the slightest evidence. And we are not the only ones to say so. The Tel Aviv court on Monday dismissed Amnesty's complaint against the company NSO, citing Amnesty's inability to prove that the software was used by its government. This is another case where Amnesty speaks without evidence," said Bourita. "All this raises serious doubts about its methodology. And Morocco will not give in to this blackmail," he added. 

During the interview, collected by the news agency MAP, the minister detailed that in 2020 alone, Amnesty has published "up to seven biased reports on Morocco", as well as 72 other documents "that are not explicitly unfavourable, without provoking any reaction from the Moroccan authorities".  Thus, Bourita has defended the human rights reforms undertaken by the Kingdom, claiming that they do not expect to be treated with "leniency", much less "flattered", but rather to be given value for the essence of these reforms. 

The accusation issued by Amnesty International "ignores the country's authorities, its civil society and its citizens," he warned.  Bourita also said that anyone who is familiar with the reality of the Kingdom "knows that Morocco has no problems with freedom of expression". "We are proud of the dynamism of our civil society and our country made its development a state policy. And that has to be recognised", he added.  The minister considers that Amnesty's statements "destroy more than two decades of universally recognized human rights, of creation of institutions and consolidation of good practices, placing us in the same category with countries that have committed real atrocities against their peoples". 

Thus, Bourita insisted once again and asked Amnesty for "evidence or an apology". "We believe that this organisation does not take into account the interests of Morocco, its citizens or its institutions. He added that Morocco had no plans to "close the door on reports that would allegedly make us grind our teeth. "Our country is not allergic to reports from international organizations or to interaction. We submit ourselves to periodic reviews by the United Nations, sometimes on a voluntary basis, because we believe that this interaction can move us forward, to rectify things that need to be rectified," he said. 

El periodista y activista Omar Radi espera fuera del tribunal en Casablanca, Marruecos, el 12 de marzo de 2020
PHOTO/REUTERS - Journalist and activist Omar Radi waits outside the courthouse in Casablanca, Morocco, on 12 March 2020

In this interview, the Alaoui minister was self-critical, stating that the Kingdom's trajectory "is not perfect", although he did highlight "progress in meeting the expectations of our citizens". "However, Morocco has the right to expect interaction based on respect, and that is what we demand from Amnesty," he added.  The Maghreb nation has questioned the fact that Amnesty has taken the "liberty of taking shortcuts and announcing clear conclusions" in order to, they have explained, "package them into an alleged spy story to make it attractive to the media". 

"Should we remind people that such allegations affect both the national security of a state and the individual freedoms of its citizens? This double dimension requires much caution and nuance in the matter. We reproach Amnesty for failing in its duty of neutrality and objectivity and for being unprofessional," Bourita concluded. 

The dialectical war between Amnesty and the Moroccan government has intensified in recent weeks. On 4 July, after the Moroccan government demanded proof, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa responded by criticizing what she called a "defamatory and falsehood campaign against Amnesty". "This action is an attempt to discredit the robust human rights investigation that has brought to light a series of cases of illegal surveillance using products from the NSO Group. Instead of making constructive use of the findings of our report, the authorities have chosen to move on to the attack on the courier".