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Saudi Arabia used controversial spyware to monitor Canada-based political refugee: report

People pray at an open air makeshift mosque in front of a giant Saudi Flag in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, June 21, 2017.
People pray at an open air makeshift mosque in front of a giant Saudi Flag in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, June 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Amr Nabil

A new report suggests a controversial commercial spyware was used to infect the cellphone of a prominent Saudi political refugee and activist living in Quebec shortly before Saudi authorities arrested the man’s brothers and friends.

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The allegation is detailed in an explosive new report following an investigation by internet watchdog the Citizen Lab, housed at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, which has been raising alarms about the spyware known as Pegasus.

Pegasus is an Israeli-made surveillance program marketed to governments as a tool against terrorists and criminals, but which Citizen Lab says has been used by repressive regimes against human-rights workers, journalists and others.

Citizen Lab researchers say they believe following a detailed investigation that Omar Abdulaziz’s cellphone was one of dozens around the world infected with Pegasus, and that it was being monitored from Saudi Arabia.

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Trudeau says Canada continues to ‘engage diplomatically’ with Saudi Arabia

Abdulaziz, who was granted asylum in Canada in 2014 and has a massive following on social media, says Saudi authorities have waged an intimidation campaign against him for his criticism of the government, including the arrest of two brothers and several friends in August.

Abdulaziz says he is now considering legal action against the company behind Pegasus as well as the Saudi government, and hopes the Canadian government, which has been locked in a diplomatic spat with Riyadh, also takes action.