Civil Society Condemns Use of Pegasus in El Salvador to Spy on Journalists and Activists

Civil Society Condemns Use of Pegasus in El Salvador to Spy on Journalists and Activists
Bukele dictador. Protestas contra el presidente de El Salvador tras la destitución de magistrados de la Corte. AFP

13 – 01 – 2022 

Alessandro Di Pietrantonio

International Justice and Human Rights researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

In September 2021, a group of independent journalists got in touch with Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline after testing their devices using Amnesty International’s Mobile Verification Toolkit to detect Pegasus spyware. All the infections were confirmed through forensic analysis, and later independently confirmed by Amnesty International.  To date, 37 devices belonging to 35 individuals have been confirmed to be infected. Twenty-three of those devices belong to professionals affiliated with the regional media group El Faro, and four to the national media group Gato Encerrado, which are independent investigative outlets that have often published reporting that is critical of the Salvadoran government’s actions. The devices were infected between July 2020 and November 2021 reflecting one of the most persistent and intensive known uses of Pegasus to surveil journalists in the world. Moreover, the Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES) announced that a total of 23 journalists from different newsrooms received an official notification from Apple, alerting them to the possibility that their devices may have been targeted by Pegasus spyware. 

President Bukele hostile treatment of the media began early in his presidency, when, during the first months of his term, he generally avoided giving press conferences. Instead, he used his personal Twitter account to issue orders, fire public officials, and harass journalists, whom he often arbitrarily categorizes as “political activists.” The world is witnessing an unprecedented explosion of the use of government-mandated surveillance. The lack of accountability for such egregious conduct by public authorities and private companies allows the surveillance culture to flourish, and destroy human rights.

Sources and further reading: 

Exposed: civil society condemns use of Pegasus in El Salvador to spy on journalists and activists, AccessNow,