Slain Mexican journalist's widow says government spied on her


Mexico City (AFP)

Slain Mexican journalist Javier Valdez's widow said Wednesday the government tried to spy on her after her husband's murder using Israeli-made spyware, the latest in a string of accusations of abusive espionage.

Griselda Triana said she had received suspicious messages on her cell phone resembling those reported by prominent journalists and activists who say the government of former president Enrique Pena Nieto (2012-2018) targeted them with highly invasive spyware known as Pegasus.

"What reason could there be to spy on me? My family and I aren't criminals, and I'm sure I don't represent a national security threat," Triana told a press conference.

Valdez, a correspondent for Agence France-Presse and co-founder of the weekly newspaper Riodoce, was an award-winning expert on drug trafficking and organized crime.

He was shot dead in broad daylight on May 15, 2017 outside Riodoce's offices in Culiacan, the capital of the violent western state of Sinaloa -- a crime that drew international condemnation.

Triana said that in the days after the murder, she received text messages with eye-catching news headlines inviting her to click on a link to read the full story.

Suspicious, she did not follow the links, she said.

According to computer security experts at the press conference, clicking on them would in fact have installed Pegasus on her phone, giving access to her camera, microphone, photos, messages and other data.

Since 2017, analysts have sounded the alarm over a string of similar cases targeting activists and journalists critical of the Pena Nieto administration and also a team of international experts investigating the suspected massacre of 43 students in 2014.

Made by a secretive Israeli firm called NSO Group, Pegasus effectively turns a target's cell phone into a pocket spy.

According to The New York Times, which first broke the story, at least three Mexican federal agencies have purchased some $80 million of spyware from NSO Group since 2011.

In 2017, Pena Nieto denied spying on non-criminal targets and ordered an investigation. But activists say it has failed to produce results.

"I call on the new government (of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador) to present a report on the acquisition and use of this malware, because all indications are that they are still using it," said Triana.