Spying allegations in Hungary have sparked new concerns about press freedom.
When Hungarian journalist Szabolcs Panyi learned that he was on a list of people who could be targeted by Israeli-made Pegasus spyware, he wore it as a “badge of honor,” but subsequently felt ashamed.
“This Pegasus technology was only designed to be used against the worst people on Earth,” he told AFP.
Since taking power in 2010, critics have accused self-styled “illiberal” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of weakening core liberties, especially media freedom.
With hundreds of targets, including journalists, attorneys, and other prominent personalities, Hungary was the only EU member mentioned as a potential user of the spyware.
Officials have denied the charges, while pro-government news agencies have blamed US billionaire George Soros and the “left-wing press” of instigating the controversy.
However, activists are also raising concerns not only about the immediate charges of espionage, but also about Hungarian regulations that appear to permit such surveillance.
Panyi has changed how he works and lives as a result of his exposes on dubious Hungarian government connections with Russia and China.
“My rights were significantly violated,” Panyi claimed, adding that he was embarrassed to be followed around like a criminal or a terrorist.
“Now I’ll avoid maintaining records and drafts on computers connected to the internet, and I’ll take security precautions to avoid becoming a target of surveillance.”
Panyi works for Direkt36.hu, which is part of an international journalism consortium that worked on the Pegasus story.
Activists argue that hacking journalists’ phones may reveal their sources, making the issue even worse.
The government’s failure to respect the security of journalistic sources is intolerable, according to Gabor Polyak of the Hungarian watchdog Mertek Media Monitor.
“Interception affects not only the journalists involved, but also everyone they have contacted.”
In its second annual report on judicial independence, press freedom, and anti-corruption initiatives in Hungary, the European Commission raised concerns on Tuesday.
The research expressed concern about the dwindling space for independent media, citing Orban allies’ recent acquisitions of independent news outlets.
The government has defended its record and rebuffed calls for an independent investigation into the Pegasus claims.
Interior Minister Sandor Pinter stated, “Hungary has always operated in accordance with the law,” while Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto stated, “The government has.” Brief News from Washington Newsday.