Freedom of Expression

Press release R303/21

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression recognizes the progress made in the investigation of the Pegasus case and calls on the Mexican authorities to ensure the integrity of the persons involved in the process.

16 November 2021

Washington D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recognizes the progress made in the judicial investigation into the use of Pegasus software in Mexico to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, and public leaders who were in opposition to the government. It also calls on the State to intensify its efforts to fully clarify the facts and effectively punish those responsible, and to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the integrity of the victims and their representatives, as well as judicial operators and persons involved in the judicial process.

According to available information, on November 1, the Federal Ministerial Police (PFM) arrested an individual in the city of Querétaro for his probable responsibility in the crime of aggravated illegal interception of communications to the detriment of a journalist, using Pegasus software. The person being prosecuted was allegedly a member of Proyectos y Diseño VME, one of the companies that acquired the software, according to public source reports. According to information provided by the Attorney General's Office the individual has been placed before a judge at the Federal Criminal Justice Center in the Reclusorio Sur. Also, that same day, agents of the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office attached to the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), would have formulated charges against the detainee for his probable criminal responsibility, with the aggravating circumstance of being committed against a journalist and with the aim of affecting, limiting and undermining his freedom of expression, as provided for in Mexican federal law. As a precautionary measure, he was remanded in custody, according to information obtained by this office.

The Rapporteur’s Office welcomes this measure, which constitutes a transcendental step in the investigation of the facts denounced last August by the IACHR, the SRFOE and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico regarding the use of Pegasus software to spy on various public figures who actively participate in the public and political debate. However, this Office considers that, although relevant and transcendent, this measure alone is insufficient in view of the complexity and dimension of the complaints received and the information that has come to light in recent months.

Since 2017, publicly disclosed information has revealed multiple victims of attempted spying through Pegasus software, including journalists Carmen Aristegui, Carlos Lloret de Mola and Azam Amhed, as well as Cecilio Pineda, a reporter murdered in the state of Guerrero in 2017. Members of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (Centro PRODH); Inter-American Court Judge Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor; and at least one member of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) in the Ayotzinapa case, established to investigate the mass disappearance of students in Iguala in 2014, were also reportedly targeted for illegal surveillance. As noted by this Office in a communication, at the time of the attacks these individuals were investigating and reporting on events of marked public interest and/or working to defend serious human rights violations. According to public information, almost a third of the 50,000* telephone numbers allegedly identified for espionage would be based in Mexico, which would have been one of the States with the greatest interest in acquiring the malicious software.

In this context, for the Office of the Special Rapporteur, this progress accentuates the obligations of due diligence, completeness, and speed of the ongoing investigation. Consequently, this office urges and encourages the State of Mexico to continue its efforts to investigate the facts in a complete, effective and impartial manner. It also urges the authorities to ensure the protection of the integrity of the victims and their representatives, of the persons charged, and of all those involved in the judicial process, including judicial operators, in order to avoid any possible undue pressure that might seek to alter the investigation or the expectation of exemplary justice that guarantees the non-repetition of the facts. Since this is a particularly important instance, this Office considers it extremely important for the State to activate all the mechanisms at its disposal in order to ensure the cooperation of all State agencies and private entities with information that may contribute to the clarification of the facts.

Finally, as stated in a previous communication, the Office of the Special Rapporteur reiterates the call for an immediate moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology until regulatory frameworks in line with international human rights obligations are established.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.


*The number initially published contains a typing error. Pegasus Project has identified 50,000 telephone numbers, according to publicly available information.