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UK High Court rules Saudi Arabia not immune from legal challenge over spyware against British resident | Science & Tech News

A human rights activist has been granted the ability to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia after alleging Saudi agents assaulted him and infected his iPhones with spyware.

The High Court ruled on Friday that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) does not have immunity from facing the legal challenge under the State Immunity Act 1978.

Ghanem Al-Masarir, 41, is a satirist on YouTube and an activist who has lived in England since 2003.

He “has been prominently involved in campaigning for political reform and human rights in Saudi Arabia”, according to the High Court summary of his claim.

Mr Al-Masarir claims that the KSA hacked his phones using spyware developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, which has since been sanctioned by the US government for its involvement in alleged human rights abuses.

His claim is that the spyware allowed the Saudi regime’s staff “to access his microphone and camera to hear and record what he was doing”, say his lawyers at Leigh Day.

He was also assaulted in an attack outside Harrods in Knightsbridge, central London, on 31 August 2018 – the same year he was granted asylum in the UK – by people who he claims were acting on the behalf of the Saudi regime.

Lawyers representing the KSA argued there is no evidence that it was liable for the alleged phone infection or that the assault was committed on the kingdom’s behalf.

Mr Al-Masarir runs a YouTube channel
Image:
Mr Al-Masarir runs a YouTube channel

Mr Al-Masarir had been tipped off about the surveillance by staff at The Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the University of Toronto.

The Citizen Lab has brought many spyware cases and potential human rights abuses to light, including the tool’s alleged use inside Downing Street.

He described today’s ruling – which found against the KSA’s claim that it was immune from being hauled into an English court for the alleged actions – as a “huge relief”.

“The impact of the assault and the targeting with spyware, which I believe was orchestrated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has had a profound effect on my life,” he said in a statement following the ruling.

“I no longer feel safe and I am constantly looking over my shoulder. I no longer feel able to speak up for the oppressed Saudi people because I fear that any contact with people inside the Kingdom could put them in danger.

“I look forward to presenting my full case to the court in the hope that I can finally hold the Kingdom to account for the suffering I believe they have caused me,” he added.

Jeremy Paxman to step down as University Challenge host | Ents & Arts News

Jeremy Paxman is to step down as the host of University Challenge, the BBC has said.

The broadcaster, 72, has presented the programme for the past 28 years. It celebrates its 60th birthday this year and becomes the BBC’s longest-running quiz show.

Paxman will film his final episode in the autumn, with his final series airing between 29 August through to summer 2023.

His resignation comes after he revealed he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in May last year.

Paxman said of his time on the show: “I’ve had a blast hosting this wonderful series for nearly 29 years.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with an amazing team and to meet some of the swottier brains in the country. It gives me hope for the future.”

His replacement will be announced later this week, the BBC said.

Kate Phillips, the director of the corporation’s unscripted content department, said: “Since the BBC revived University Challenge in 1994 Jeremy has been at the front and centre of the show’s success and is without doubt one of the world’s finest and most formidable quizmasters.

“We are hugely grateful to Jeremy for his dedication to the programme for an incredible 28 years, he will be much missed by us all and the show’s millions of viewers.”