Hicham Mansouri’s phone was compromised around 20 times by Pegasus spyware between February and April 2021. Amnesty International’s Security Lab, in partnership with the Forbidden Stories consortium, was able to confirm that the attack vector was most likely an iMessage vulnerability known to have been used by customers of NSO Group during the time of his targeting.
Who is he?
Hicham Mansouri is an investigative journalist and former member of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI). Mansouri began his career writing a political satire blog, before switching to investigative reporting. He was one of the cofounders of the AMJI in 2011, which officially launched two days after the start of the Arab Spring in Morocco. The organization was funded by International Media Support, an organization based in Denmark, and was never officially recognized by the Moroccan government. AMJI trained beginner journalists in investigative reporting techniques. Many of the journalists who took part in the project were targeted by the government, including Maria Moukrim, Maati Monjib and others.
Mansouri said that the organization was constantly under attack: according to him, it was infiltrated by undercover police; documents were robbed; and at one point the homepage was hacked and turned into a pornography site. Mansouri himself was targeted through a legal campaign that human rights groups believe was intended to prevent him from reporting critically on the government. In 2015, the journalist was sentenced to 10 months in prison for adultery, after armed agents broke into his home and found him with an unmarried woman. He was stripped naked and arrested. At the time, Mansouri had been working on an investigation into electronic surveillance in Morocco and had just received important documents related to this story.
When he was released from prison, the documents had disappeared, he told Forbidden Stories. Upon his release, Mansouri continued training citizen journalists in investigative journalism techniques using smartphones – this time through a program called StoryMaker that was funded by three international organizations – Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Guardian Project and Small World News. In June of 2016, Mansouri and six other journalists and activists from this organization were accused of “threatening the internal security of the state” for having organized the program. That year, Mansouri fled to France where he now writes a blog on media freedom for the French site Mediapart and freelances for a number of other publications including Orient XXI.
He is currently working on a book about drug trafficking in Moroccan prisons that he began reporting while incarcerated. “If they have your phone, they have everything: what you like, what you don’t like,” he said. “We all have contradictions. They look for your weak parts and then they diffame you.”
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Moroccan authorities said there was no proof of them being a client of NSO Group. NSO Group did not answer Forbidden Stories’ questions on specific targets but said it “will continue to investigate all credible claims of misuse and take appropriate action based on the results of these investigations.”