On 12 January 2023, Juan Carlos García Rivera, accused of using Pegasus malware to spy on journalist Carmen Aristegui, was acquitted by a judge in Mexico City. The trial confirmed that Aristegui’s phone was tapped with illegal spyware, but the Prosecutor’s Office did not provide sufficient evidence that García Rivera had directly participated in the crime. ARTICLE 19 Mexico, R3D and Social Tic call for the investigations into the use of Pegasus to continue so that those responsible for illegal spying on journalists and human rights defenders are brought to justice.
When issuing the sentence, Judge Luis Benítez Alcántara acknowledged that the journalist’s phone was indeed tapped with Pegasus between 2015 and 2016, as experts from Citizen Lab from University of Toronto demonstrated during the trial.
The judge also conceded that Aristegui was targeted because of her journalistic work investigating corruption at the highest level of power during the previous administration of President Peña Nieto. In addition, the judge pointed out that interception of private communications without a court order represents an offense against the journalist, as it serves to inhibit her work and put her integrity, as well as the safety of her relatives and sources at risk.
However, Benítez Alcántara considered that the Prosecutor’s Office did not sufficiently prove that García Rivera had directly participated in the illegal tapping of Aristegui’s private communications, and therefore ordered his immediate release.
The judge regretted that Carmen Aristegui’s access to justice could not be guaranteed due to the failure of the Attorney General’s Office to comply with the standards of proof and urged the agency to continue with the investigations until those responsible for the espionage are found.
It is also important to move forward with the investigations of the cases of other espionage victimes, which have been reported to the Attorney General’s Office more than six years ago.
The outcome of the trial confirms the urgent need for the Attorney General’s Office to increase the efforts to investigate all those responsible for illegal espionage, whether they are private actors and/or public officials of either the former Attorney General’s Office (PGR), the former Center for Intelligence and National Security (CISEN) or the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA), whose use of the Pegasus system in the last six years have been fully documented.
Likewise, there is still a need to move forward with the investigations into the cases of espionage with Pegasus that have been denounced during the current administration, perpetrated by the Armed Forces against human rights defenders and journalists, as has been documented by the investigation Ejército Espía.
It is regrettable that, more than six years after the complaints were filed, impunity for illegal espionage against dozens of victims continues.
The work of defending human rights and journalistic activity is under threat, as long as those responsible for these acts are not brought to justice. Alongside the need for urgent investigations, it is also essential to carry out the necessary reforms to ensure that the acquisition and use of surveillance technologies are no longer abused. We call for a moratorium on surveillance technologies, until sufficient regulatory frameworks are put in place to ensure that the use of such technologies can be compatible with human rights.