French IT company, Amesys, has been charged by French prosecutors for its alleged involvement in helping former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi spy on opposition figures.
French prosecutors have charged a French IT company that allegedly helped the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi spy on opposition figures who were later detained and tortured, sources close to the inquiry said Thursday.
Amesys, which is now owned by the Bull technology group, and its former chief, Philippe Vannier, were charged with complicity in acts of torture on June 18, the sources said.
The inquiry was opened in 2013 after a complaint by two French-based NGOs, the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the League of Human Rights (LDH).
They accused Amesys of selling internet surveillance gear to Libya between 2007 and 2011 which was used to hunt government opponents.
The deal was first reported by The Wall Street Journal in 2011, as the Arab Spring protests against autocratic governments raged in several Middle East countries, including Libya.
Contacted by AFP, a lawyer for the company, Olivier Baratelli, denied “any sort of complicity in torture whatsoever.”
Amesys has acknowledged the tech deal with Libya, which was agreed in the context of a rapprochement between Gaddafi’s regime and the West starting in 2007, when Gaddafi visited then French president Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.
“A decade on, it’s time to face justice,” the FIDH said on Twitter.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia deals
The French inquiry also targets another firm, Nexa Technologies, that is accused of selling an updated version of Amesys’s software to the government of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The software, called “Cerebro,” is capable of real-time message or call tracing, which rights groups say has helped imprison thousands of Egyptian political prisoners.
Olivier Bohbot, the head of Nexa, and two other executives were charged last month with “complicity in acts of torture and forced disappearances.”
London-based rights group Amnesty International welcomed the indictments of both firms as “unprecedented.”
“These indictments send a clear message to surveillance companies that they are not above the law, and could face criminal accountability for their actions,” Amnesty tech director Rasha Abdul Rahim said in a statement last week.
The FIDH says judges are also investigating the sale of similar technologies to Saudi Arabia.
Executives of surveillance companies Amesys and Nexa Technologies indicted for complicity in torture
Responding to the news that four executives of French surveillance companies Amesys and Nexa Technologies have been indicted for complicity in torture over the sale of surveillance technology to governments in Libya and Egypt, Amnesty Tech Director, Rasha Abdul Rahim, said:
“The indictments are unprecedented. When left unchecked, the activities of surveillance companies can facilitate grave human rights violations and repression, including the crimes of torture and enforced disappearance.
“These indictments send a clear message to surveillance companies that they are not above the law, and could face criminal accountability for their actions.
“This case also shows the urgent need for states to implement a human rights regulatory framework that governs the sale and transfer of surveillance equipment.
“Until such a framework is put in place, a moratorium on the purchase, sale, transfer, and use of surveillance equipment to governments linked to human rights violations should be enforced.”
On June 22, it was announced that four executives of French surveillance companies Amesys and Nexa Technologies were indicted last week by investigating judges of the crimes against humanity and war crimes unit of the Paris Judicial Court.
The companies are accused of providing surveillance technology to governments in Libya and Egypt that was then used to track down opponents, who were then arrested and tortured in jail.
The executives have now been indicted for complicity in torture in Libya and Egypt, and complicity in enforced disappearance in Egypt.
Surveillance and torture in Egypt and Libya: Amesys and Nexa Technologies executives indicted
On 16 and 17 June, four executives of Amesys and Nexa Technologies were indicted by investigating judges of the crimes against humanity and war crimes unit of the Paris Judicial Court for complicity in torture in the Libyan portion of the investigation and complicity in torture and enforced disappearance in the Egyptian portion.
The two companies are accused of having supplied surveillance technology to authoritarian regimes in Libya and Egypt.
These indictments arise from two separate complaints filed by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the French League for Human Rights (LDH), which denounced the companies for the sale of surveillance technology to the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi (in 2007) and the Egyptian regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (in 2014).
On 19 October 2011, our organisations filed a first complaint against Amesys following the revelations published in the Wall Street Journal and WikiLeaks. In 2013, FIDH accompanied Libyan victims of the Gaddafi regime who testified before judges about the way they had been identified and then arrested and tortured, after having been subjected to surveillance by the Libyan security services.
On 9 November 2017, FIDH and LDH, with the support of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, filed a complaint with the crimes against humanity and war crimes unit of the Paris Public Prosecutor’s Office regarding the participation of this same company (which has since become Nexa Technologies) in the repressive operations carried out by Sisi’s regime, through the sale of surveillance equipment.
This request to open a new investigation for acts of complicity in torture and enforced disappearances committed in Egypt followed revelations by the French newspaper Télérama in July 2017, according to which the company Amesys had “changed its name and shareholders to sell its services to the new Egyptian government—without the French state finding fault with this.”
In May 2017, Amesys was placed under the status of assisted witness for complicity in acts of torture committed in Libya between 2007 and 2011.
Since then, our organisations and the civil parties who had the courage to testify before the French justice system have been waiting for developments in these cases, and had repeatedly expressed incomprehension at the slow pace of progress.