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Report, Conflict & security, Technology & society, Middle East, Human rights & justice, Citizen Lab, Munk School

Peace through Pegasus: Jordanian Human Rights Defenders and Journalists Hacked with Pegasus Spyware

Jordanian human rights defenders (HRDs) work in a generally hostile environment. Since the Arab Spring in 2011, grassroots protests have emerged, reflecting growing discontent with government corruption and wealth inequality, among other issues. In response, authorities have often arrested activists and curtailed freedoms.

Jordan saw a wave of protests in 2011, as part of the Arab Spring. Protests were driven partly by the Hirak, groups of youth activists not connected with traditional centres of political power in Jordan. Protests flared up again in June 2018, galvanised by a government plan to increase taxes and reduce subsidies, as required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). More than 30 trade unions called a general strike, and protesters occupied the Fourth Circle area of Amman near the Prime Minister’s office. In response, the government temporarily withdrew the bill, and re-introduced it in September 2018 with minor changes. When the bill’s final text was published in the Official Gazette in December 2018, activists once again held protests in the Fourth Circle that persisted into 2019. In March 2019, Jordanian authorities began a wave of arrests against Hirak members, charging them with “insulting the King” and “undermining the political regime.”

In September 2019, Jordan’s largest union, the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate (JTS), announced a strike for higher wages. The strike shut down most schools in Jordan for a month, and the government was forced to agree to a pay increase. However, in April 2020, the government cancelled the pay increase, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. When JTS planned a new wave of protests, the government arrested JTS’ entire board, ordered their offices closed for two years, and issued a gag order preventing public discussion of the case.  Nevertheless, teachers protested again in July 2020, and Jordanian security forces responded by arresting around 1000 teachers.

February and March 2022 saw additional crackdowns on activists. Detainees were charged with “spreading false news” and “inciting strife.”