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Saudi Arabian satirist sues Kingdom in UK court over alleged phone hacking

Josie Ensor
Ghanem al-Masarir claims his phone was hacked after he criticised the Saudi royal family, in which Mohammed bin Salman (pictured) is crown prince, in 2018 - Pool AFP

A Saudi Arabian dissident who claims to have been a victim of hacking is suing his government at the High Court in London, in a rare case against the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Ghanem al-Masarir, a satirist who has been living under police protection in the UK, alleges that had his phone hacked after criticising the Saudi royal family on social media in 2018.

Al-Masarir, 39, who was put under protection following the murder in Istanbul of fellow dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, reported unusual activity on his phones shortly after.

His phones were later analysed by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which tracks the use of cyberweapons and allegedly confirmed that he had been sent malicious texts that were “associated” with spyware.

His lawyers at Leigh Day law firm said the decision by the High Court to allow them to serve the claim against Riyadh showed he had an “arguable” and legitimate case.

He has previously described allegations of intimidation against him, including attempts to lure him back to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government did not immediately return a request for comment.

Mr al-Masarir, who has lived in London since 2003, said: “For years it has seemed like the Saudi regime cannot be touched by the legal system but finally I have the opportunity to hold them to account in a fair and independent court of law and hopefully see justice served.

“I hope this latest development gives confidence to others who have been targeted in the same way by the regime that they can fight back,” he said n a statement.

Martyn Day, of the firm Leigh Day, said: “This is a rare case brought in this country against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and we are pleased that the court has agreed that given the circumstances in this case, the targeting of an individual while he was living in the UK, they are prepared to enable us to serve the formal proceedings on the Saudi Government.”

It came as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was accused of hacking into the phone of Jeff Bezoz, the CEO of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, by sending him malware over messaging service WhatsApp - an allegation the Saudi government has described as 'absurd'.

It has been suggested that Saudi was trying to intimidate Mr Bezos over his paper’s coverage of Mr Khashoggi’s murder.

Meanwhile, the Daily Beast website reported that Saudi attempted to kidnap a Saudi comedian and critic of bin Salman, or MBS, on American soil.

Abdulrahman Almutairi, a 27-year-old comedian and former student at the University of San Diego, used social media to criticise the crown prince over the murder of Khashoggi.

According to its report a Saudi agent accompanied Mr al-Mutairi’s father on a flight to collect Mr al-Mutairi against his will and bring him back to Saudi Arabia, according to The Daily Beast’s sources.  

It is not unusual for Saudi to be accused of violating US sovereignty. In recent years several reports have emerged of Riyadh allegedly whisking Saudi suspects wanted on US criminal charges out of the country.

In one recent case, a private lawyer hired by the Saudi consulate posted $100,000 of a bail for a man wanted on rape and murder charges in Oregon. Authorities believe he was given a forged passport and flown back to Saudi Arabia on a private jet.