How Togo used Israeli software Pegasus to spy on Catholic clerics and opponents

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To his parishioners in Kpalimé, an agricultural town in southwestern Togo, Bishop Benoît Alowonou likes to repeat that “God knows the truth of the heart”. Not quite the secrets that interest the Togolese regime; him “Knows” to the contents of the man of faith’s smartphone.

According to a survey conducted by The world and The Guardian, the 71-year-old cleric is one of six Togolese identified so far to have been targeted by highly sophisticated spyware called Pegasus. A digital weapon developed and sold to states by the Israeli company NSO Group, officially to fight terrorism and serious crime. In Togo, it has been used against Catholic clerics, civil society activists and opposition politicians. These voices who criticize the power of President Faure Gnassingbé unwittingly suffered infections from their smartphones during the year 2019.

Read also In Togo, Faure Gnassingbé re-appointed for a fourth term, the opposition contests

“I have nothing to hide, but it seems clear that this type of software is dangerous for our freedoms, for our democracy”, replies Bishop Alowonou, joined by The world. As president of the Conference of Bishops of Togo, he had to orchestrate delicate dialogues and negotiations between the opposition and this power that clerics regularly criticize for its authoritarian abuses. “It is our duty to publicly tell inconvenient truths”, insists the Bishop of Kpalimé. Has this freedom of speech earned him the target of the Pegasus software, which in particular makes it possible, in its basic version, to geolocate the victim, read his messages and emails, or even activate the microphone and his camera? smartphone?

“This clear violation of citizens’ freedoms is very serious”, thinks Father Pierre Chanel Affognon. With the citizen movement Forces Vives Espérance pour le Togo, this priest is also involved in the struggle for democracy in this West African country ruled with an iron fist by the Gnassingbé family since 1967. The current one President Faure Gnassingbé, 54, began his fourth term in May, re-elected with an overwhelming score of 70.78% strongly contested by the opposition and civil society. His main rival, Agbéyomé Kodjo, was arrested and then placed under judicial control, before disappearing. He is now under an international arrest warrant issued by the Togolese justice.

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