WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist accused three former U.S. intelligence contractors of an illegal hack of her phone that was instrumental in her being arrested and later tortured in her home country, according to a lawsuit filed in a U.S. court.
Loujain al-Hathloul helped lead a campaign to allow Saudi Arabian women to drive by live-streaming herself violating the ban, which was lifted in 2018.
She spent almost three years in Saudi jails and is currently banned from leaving the kingdom. The lawsuit was filed on her behalf on Thursday in a federal court in Oregon by the privacy non-profit organization Electronic Frontier Foundation.
It alleged that the surveillance operation run by the three ex-contractors and DarkMatter, a United Arab Emirates cybersecurity company, led to al-Hathloul’s arrest by the UAE’s security services.
From there she was extradited by private plane to Saudi Arabia, “where she was detained, imprisoned and tortured,” according to the lawsuit.
A 2019 Reuters investigation, cited by the lawsuit, revealed that al-Hathloul was targeted in 2017 by a team of U.S. mercenaries who surveilled dissidents on behalf of the UAE under a program called Project Raven, which categorized her as a national security threat and hacked into her iPhone.
Al-Hathloul said that as she was tortured, interrogators mentioned communications they apparently learned of through “unlawful access” to her phone, according to the lawsuit.
While some of the activists detained along with Hathloul have been provisionally released, several others remain imprisoned on what campaigners describe as opaque charges.
David Greene, EFF’s civil liberties director, said in a statement that “companies that peddle their surveillance software and services to oppressive governments must be held accountable for the resulting human rights abuses”.
“The harm to Loujain al-Hathloul can never be undone. But this lawsuit is a step toward accountability.”