LONDON (Middle East Eye ) - French prosecutors have accused four executives at two French technology companies of being complicit in torture and enforced disappearances, after they allegedly sold surveillance technology to the Libyan and Egyptian governments, a rights group said.
The firms, Amesys and Nexa Technologies, are suspected of selling internet surveillance gear to the two countries, which were then used to track down opposition figures who were later detained and tortured.
The former chief of Amesys, Philippe Vannier, was charged in Paris last week with “complicity in acts of torture”, according to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Olivier Bohbot, head of Nexa Technologies, and two other executives were charged with “complicity in acts of torture and forced disappearances”.
“This is a tremendous step forward. It means that what we see every day on the ground- namely the links between the activity of these surveillance companies and human rights violations - can be classified as crimes and lead to charges of complicity,” Clemence Bectarte and Patrick Baudouin, lawyers for FIDH, said in a statement.
Investigations were opened after the deals were reported on by the Wall Street Journal and WikiLeaks in 2011, when the Arab Spring protests swept through the Middle East and North Africa.
The WSJ report revealed that Amesys had provided technology to the government of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya that allowed it to secretly intercept internet messages.
In 2017, FIDH filed a complaint against Nexa Technologies, accusing it of selling an updated version of Amesys’s software called “Cerebro”, capable of real-time message or call tracing, to the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Egyptian authorities are accused of detaining more than 60,000 political prisoners since Sisi ousted his democratically elected predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, in a 2013 military coup.
Harsh conditions in Egypt’s prisons have led to the deaths of scores of prisoners, including Morsi in 2019, while executions of prisoners under terrorism laws have been ramped up.