Exiled Russian journalist Galina Timchenko speaks to CPJ about finding out that her phone had been hacked using Pegasus spyware. (CPJ/Esha Sarai)
Exiled Russian journalist Galina Timchenko speaks to CPJ about finding out that her phone had been hacked using Pegasus spyware. (CPJ/Esha Sarai)

Pegasus spyware found on exiled Russian journalist’s phone

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An investigation revealed that the phone of Galina Timchenko, an exiled Russian journalist who heads independent news website Meduza, was infected by NSO Group’s Pegasus surveillance spyware while she was in Germany earlier this year. The infection took place shortly after Russia designated Meduza as an “undesirable” organization – a measure that banned the outlet from operating on Russian territory.

🗯️ “Journalists and their sources are not free and safe if they are spied on,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “This attack on Timchenko underscores that governments must implement an immediate moratorium on the development, sale, and use of spyware technologies.” 

On September 14, over 200 journalists wrote to members of the European Parliament, calling on them to introduce an absolute ban on surveillance of journalists through spyware in the upcoming European Media Freedom Act.

CPJ and these journalists’ advocacy aims to strengthen the final text of the draft EU law to protect journalists against abusive spyware, and to safeguard and support independent public media.

⚠️ Spyware is not the only threat to journalists’ digital privacy. On September 13, CPJ joined a letter urging countries to reject the European Union’s draft Child Sexual Abuse Regulation, which could force companies to scan everyone’s private digital communications on behalf of governments all the time. Tech companies would be able to break end-to-end encryption, jeopardizing journalists’ ability to protect their sources and violating the right to confidential communications.

Dive deeper:

⚡️ Discover how spyware threatens press freedom in CPJ’s special report “Zero-Click Spyware: Enemy of the Press” and learn about other journalists targeted with Pegasus spyware on CPJ’s website

💡 Review CPJ’s safety advisory on how journalists can protect themselves from spyware

📣 Read our recommendations to protect against spyware, in which we call for export controls on spyware technology

🔎 Learn more about press freedom in the European Union in CPJ’s special report “Fragile Progress

🎥 Watch 2022 Gwen Ifill awardee Galina Timchenko speak (in Russian) about finding out her phone had been hacked using Pegasus

Global press freedom updates

  • Filipino journalist Maria Ressa and Rappler acquitted of tax charges, Hold The Line Coalition calls for all remaining cases to be dropped
  • India blocks journalists’ tweets about violence against Muslims; Delhi home of journalists Khushboo and Nadeem Akhtar set ablaze
  • Pakistani journalist Fayaz Zafar arrested and alleges police abuse, Amjad Ali Sahaab under investigation
  • Russian journalist Abdulmumin Gadzhiev sentenced to 17 years on terrorism charges; three more journalists – including Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov – labeled as “foreign agents”; journalist Mikhail Afanasyev sentenced to 5.5 years in prison for “fake news” about army
  • Kyrgyz authorities threaten to block website of investigative outlet Kloop
  • Turkish journalist Mehmet Karakeçili beaten, Hale Gönültaş threatened
  • CPJ joins call for Malta to publish expert report on media
  • DRC journalist Stanis Bujakera arrested over report on ex-minister’s murder
  • Nigerian journalist Damilola Ayeni arrested in Benin while reporting on environment; later freed after false jihadist claim
  • Guinea authorities suspend Dépêche Guinée news website and publisher Abdoul Latif Diallo for 1 month
  • Colombian editor Estefanía Colmenares receives death threats after political exposé
  • Brazilian police threaten Dutch and Colombian journalists in the Amazon


 A Tehran newspaper features a photograph of Mahsa (Jina) Amini, whose death in morality police custody sparked a national uprising, as pictured on September 18, 2022. (West Asia News Agency via Reuters/Majid Asgaripour)

When Mahsa (Jina) Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, died in morality police custody last September, Iran’s already embattled press corps paid a heavy price for reporting on her death and the nationwide protests that followed. Scores of journalists were among those arrested as Iranian authorities cracked down on the demonstrators, leading Iran to be ranked as the world’s worst jailer of journalists in CPJ’s 2022 prison census.

One year later, the assault on the press – as well as on activists and Amini’s relatives – continues. Journalists and even their lawyers have faced punitive retaliation for their work, with a number of reporters making the hard decision to flee their country.

In a new special feature, CPJ outlines key trends in the ongoing crackdown and how they have impacted Iran’s journalists and media outlets.

🗯️ Inside Iran, journalists are “seen as a threat,” Holly Dagres, an Iran analyst with the U.S. think tank Atlantic Council, explained to CPJ.

CPJ also interviewed exiled journalist Saeede Fathabadi, who goes professionally by Saeede Fathi, who was arrested along with dozens of other journalists and imprisoned for two months in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison.

Now seeking asylum in Vienna, Fathi spoke with CPJ about her work, her arrest, and her plans to continue her journalism. She described her detention, saying, “We went through very difficult days. Interrogations were breathtakingly hard.”

⚡️ Read the interview here.

A closer look

In Sudan, at least 700 civilians have been killed since fighting started in April between the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group and the Sudanese Armed Forces, in part due to tensions over the Sudanese army’s attempted integration of the RSF.

📝 CPJ and over 50 human rights and humanitarian organizations wrote to the United Nations, urging it to mobilize to address the crisis in Sudan, from which hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, and many journalists covering the fighting have been arrested, assaulted, shot, beaten, and robbed.

In a joint statement, the organizations note, “With fighting continuing across the country, brutal sexual violence rising, widespread deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and journalists and human rights defenders being silenced, the country is no longer at the precipice of mass atrocities; it has fallen over the edge.”

CPJ calls on the UN Security Council to implement a more unified approach to deter Sudan’s warring parties from continuing to commit egregious abuses.

What we are reading (and watching)

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