Politics

Verhofstadt warns ‘dictatorship growing in EU’ amid claim Orban spied on journalists

Viktor Orban says he is fighting for ‘common sense’ at EU summit

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Mr Verhofstadt, an outspoken critic of Mr Obran’s policies, was reacting to a report which claimed the strongman had used invasive spyware to intrude on investigative journalists. Today the EU condemned any spying on journalists following the bombshell reports.

The Belgian MEP tweeted: “No more ‘deeply concerned’…. the EU has a dictatorship growing inside of it.

“We need a full inquiry by the European Parliament!”

The software used to invade the privacy of media workers was sold by an Israeli firm.

Reports suggest it was used to hack the smartphones of journalists, government officials and rights activists worldwide.

During a visit to Prague today, Ursula von der Leyen said the intrusion was “completely unacceptable”.

The European Commission President said: “What we could read so far – and this has to be verified, but if it is the case – it is completely unacceptable.

“Against any kind of rules we have in the European Union.

“Freedom of media, free press is one of the core values of the EU.

“It is completely unacceptable if this (hacking) were to be the case.”

The findings of the investigation were published on Sunday, sending shockwaves across Europe.

The probe titled the Pegasus Project was run by Forbidden Stories, a non-profit journalism group based in Paris.

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They said spyware made and licensed by the Israeli company NSO had been used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.

Direkt36, a Hungarian investigative website part of the consortium, said there were more than 300 targets in Hungary.

These included journalists, businesspeople, lawyers and critics of Mr Orban’s government.

Two journalists at Direkt36, a project partner of Pegasus, had their phones hacked, The Guardian reports.

One of those targeted was Szabolcs Panyi, a well-known reporter who has a wide range of sources in diplomatic and national security circles in his book of contacts.

Peter Szijjarto, the country’s foreign minister, said Hungary was unaware of the reported surveillance attempts.

However, he said he requested an investigation be carried out by the head of the Hungarian Information Office, a secret service under his supervision.

The maker of the spying device said said its product was intended only for use by vetted government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime.

In a statement on its website, NSO said the information provided by the consortium’s sources “has no factual basis”.

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