Cyprus: Call for thorough investigations into surveillance of Makarios Drousiotis

ECPMF

19 September 2023

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To:

Office of the Attorney General of the Republic of Cyprus, George L. Savvides

Minister of Justice and Public Order, Anna Koukkides Procopiou

Chief of Police, Stylianos Papatheodorou

 

19 September 2023

 

Re: the alleged surveillance of Makarios Drousiotis and the lack of adequate investigations into the matter

 

Dear Mr Savvides, Ms Koukkides Procopiou and Mr Papatheodorou,

 

We, the undersigned international media freedom organisations and journalists’ associations, are highly concerned about the alleged surveillance of journalist Makarios Drousiotis, and the fact that there has not been a prompt, adequate or thorough investigation of the matter. As the responsible authorities, we call on you to act at last and ensure a proper investigation and prosecution of those responsible for any wrongdoing.

 

In recent years, Drousiotis, a well-known and widely-read investigative journalist, has published a series of books in which he has documented corruption in the Cypriot Government. Starting in February 2018, Drousiotis was allegedly spied on by the Cypriot Government using both eavesdropping techniques and spyware, as documented in the Report of the European Parliament on the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance software. At the time, Drousiotis was assistant to the Cypriot EU Commissioner Christos Stylianides. In parallel, he also investigated financial connections between the then-President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, and Russian oligarchs. 

 

Amidst revelations in the media about NSO Group operating from Cyprus and suspicions voiced by CitizenLab that the country used NSO technologies, Drousiotis noticed several indications of possible infiltration of his phone with Pegasus spyware. These included a suspicious missed WhatsApp call, rapid battery depletion, and frequent overheating of his device while he was not using it. In the following months, Drousiotis faced several intimidation attempts, including the disconnection of security cameras at his home and being followed by unknown persons.

 

After going public with his story and filing a complaint with the Cypriot police, Drousiotis contacted a private security expert who – unbeknownst to Drousiotis – also appears to cooperate on various projects with the Cypriot Government. The expert installed software on Drousiotis’s computer, which, without his consent, allowed remote access to all archives and data stored on the machine. These included sensitive information identifying Drousiotis’s sources, who had wished to remain anonymous. 

 

Despite repeated requests to the Cypriot police, no progress in the investigation of the breach has been reported. A forensic lab in the Netherlands, which was provided with the same information that was shared with the police, has independently documented the security breach, which Drousiotis described in his book Mafia State: How the Gang Abolished the Rule of Law in Cyprus, published in September 2022. 

 

It is wholly unacceptable that despite complaints to the authorities and repeated follow-ups by Drousiotis and his representatives, there has been no progress in the investigation and prosecution of these grave allegations. Intimidation, harassment and surreptitious surveillance of investigative reporters undermine their watchdog role and the protection of their journalistic sources, which are essential in a functioning democracy.

 

We call on you to step up and finally take the appropriate investigative measures and prosecutorial action. While respecting the confidentiality of the investigation, we also ask you to respect its basic transparency and duly inform the journalist and the public about the results. We stand in solidarity with Drousiotis and will continue to follow the case closely.

 

Sincerely,

ARTICLE 19 Europe

Association of European Journalists (AEJ)

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

OBC Transeuropa (OBCT)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

This statement was coordinated by the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. This project provides legal and practical support, public advocacy and information to protect journalists and media workers. The MFRR is organised by a consortium led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) including ARTICLE 19 Europe, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), International Press Institute (IPI) and CCI/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT). The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

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