CATALAN MEPs have urged the EU not to look the other way and introduce a moratorium on the use of a controversial spyware program that was used to target the region’s independence leaders.

Diana Riba i Giner, who is the vice-chair of the EU Parliament’s spyware inquiry, said the use of Pegasus must be halted until the European Union and nation-states can agree on a set of rules on how it is used.

The Barcelona politician said she is one of 65 Catalan independence supporters, including journalists and politicians, who were hacked.

Pegasus is a specialist type of software created by the Israeli NSO group which allows governments to access everything on the target’s phone.

A study by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab found 65 people connected with the Catalan independence movement were targeted with the spyware between 2017 and 2020.

READ MORE: EU investigation backs ‘Catalangate’ spying claims

The alleged covert surveillance occurred through a period in which Catalonia held what the Spanish Government deemed an illegal referendum and jailed several members of the regional government.

Among those imprisoned was Riba’s husband, former external affairs minister, Raul Romeva.

The Greens/European Free Alliance MEP said the first time she was spied on was in 2019 shortly after being elected to the European Parliament.

The second time was the week the Catalan independence leaders were sentenced by the Spanish courts.

As an MEP, Riba suggested that spying on her effectively meant spying on the EU.

But it was her personal life too that she felt was invaded.

“Pegasus takes all the information that’s in your mobile, she told The National.

“All your life, the pictures of your children, your personal life and in that moment it’s hard knowing someone, somewhere who has all your pictures and information.”

The National: Diana Riba i Giner said she felt her personal privacy was invadedDiana Riba i Giner said she felt her personal privacy was invaded (Image: EU)

The “inquiry to investigate the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware” is underway and will make suggestions to EU member states in the coming months.

She added: “[The committee] will analyse what we have to do in the EU for the use of this program if we have to ban the program, if we have to make legal frameworks.

“We have to start with a moratorium on member states until we [find a solution].”

The MEP said CatalanGate, the phrase used to describe the use of alleged surveillance on Catalan indy leaders, is part of a much bigger problem where independence activists in the region feel targeted by Spanish authorities.

She continued: “The Spanish Government is not just using the tools they have to stop the Catalan administration, they’re using the justice system with the sentencing of Catalan prisoners, they are using the intelligence service to spy.”

Fellow MEP and pro-independence politician Jordi Sole was also listed by Citizens Lab to have had Pegasus spyware on his device. Like Riba, he was not among the 18 the Spanish Government admitted to hacking.

The National: Jordi Sole said it was disturbing to have been spied onJordi Sole said it was disturbing to have been spied on (Image: EU)

He told The National there was a lack of protection for spyware victims like him.

He said: “On a personal level, it is profoundly disturbing discovering that you have been spied on and consequently, your family and friends too, on the grounds of your political activities.

“The first questions that arise are: who gave the order to infect my phone? What legal coverage had such intrusion, if any at all? Where is the information stolen? How much taxpayers' money did all these hacks cost? And above all, what do they want it for?

“Being infected with Pegasus means that a lot of information and data have been extracted from your phone and now are in the hands of some that might misuse them or even might impersonate you.

“The risks of such practices are extremely worrisome, particularly, if there is a state behind it.

“From a victims’ point of view, it is disappointing the lack of protection, remedies and judicial diligence from the Spanish authorities.”

The National: Spain is accused of hacking into the phones of dozens of pro-independence leadersSpain is accused of hacking into the phones of dozens of pro-independence leaders (Image: PA)

Sole said his phone was hacked up to five times a month. Despite this, he said Spain hasn’t investigated who was behind the attacks.

He continued: “From a political perspective, it is undeniable the political motivation of such espionage, because not only me, but also more than 60 Catalan independence leaders had been hacked.

“The revelations of the CatalanGate proved that, in Spain, a fully democratic, legitimate political movement is being spied on.

“How can Spain, an alleged European democracy, explain this? Who else would be interested in our surveillance, if not the Spanish authorities?

“What is clear is that massive espionage against political opponents has no justification, corrodes rule of law and is an unprecedented attack on fundamental rights.

“Those who authorize, conduct or legitimize such political espionage are enemies of a true democracy. Therefore, the Spanish government must be transparent and be held accountable.

“The CatalanGate is yet another proof that Spain, when confronting the Catalan democratic pro-independence movement, has violated fundamental rights, the rule of law and international human rights law.”

The National: MEPs Jordi Sole and Diana Riba i Giner have both accused Spain of spying on themMEPs Jordi Sole and Diana Riba i Giner have both accused Spain of spying on them (Image: EU)

He said now is the time for the EU to “stop looking to the other side” and demand an explanation from all governments who use the software.

The company which operates Pegasus says it only sells the software to governments in order to catch criminals.

The software has reportedly been used in Poland, Greece, Hungary, Mexico and Saudi Arabia among other countries.

The Spanish government has admitted to using the software on 18 of the spyware victims but questions remain about the other 47 people researchers said had Pegasus on their phones.

Citizen Lab said it was likely the Spanish Government was the perpetrator.

A fortnight after the CatalanGate revelations, the Spanish government announced that prime minster Pedro Sanchez and defence minister Margarita Robles had both been hacked with the Israeli-made software.

READ MORE: Catalans remember general strike in the wake of 2017 independence referendum

Some looked at Morocco as a potential perpetrator of the attack as the two countries were engaged in a political standoff at the time but the country has denied the allegation while Spain has refused to comment who was behind it.

Riba said the Spanish Government has refused to cooperate with the inquiry or with any other investigation into the issue.

“The Spanish government have this attitude that this problem is our national problem and no one should talk about that,” she said.

“I hope in the end the Spanish government accepts that they used Pegasus for the Catalan movement, that they used Pegasus for political use, not terrorism. I hope they accept that.”

The Spanish government has been approached for comment.