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The admission comes a day after the United States put the NSO Group on a trade blacklist, saying its software was behind the “transnational repression” carried out by some foreign governments. (file photo)

BUDAPEST -- A top official in Hungary's governing party has confirmed for the first time that the government had bought spyware that was allegedly used to monitor journalists, lawyers, businesspeople, and opposition figures in dozens of countries around the world.

Lajos Kosa, the chairman of the parliament's Committee on Defense and Law Enforcement, told journalists on November 4 following a closed committee session that the Interior Ministry had bought Pegasus software produced by Israel’s NSO Group.

The company became the center of controversy after an international media consortium reported in July that its Pegasus spyware was used in attempts to hack smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives, and officials in some 50 countries.

Hungary was named in the reports as one of the countries trying to infiltrate the digital devices of a number of targets, triggering protests in Budapest.

Smartphones infected with Pegasus enable operators to record phone calls, access text messages, photos, e-mails, and passwords, track GPS data, and secretly activate microphones and cameras.

Kosa, a member of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, said that in all cases of surveillance authorities acted legally after receiving the permission of a judge or the Justice Ministry.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto had previously denied knowing about such data collection, joining other ruling party members in dismissing allegations that the government illegally spied on citizens.

Opposition lawmakers are demanding a probe into the use of Pegasus. They complain that the findings of two special committee sessions examining the case have been classified by the governing party until 2050.

Hungary's government is at odds with many other European Union member states over issues regarding the rule of law and democracy.

The admission comes a day after the United States put the NSO Group on a trade blacklist, saying its software was behind the “transnational repression” carried out by some foreign governments.

With reporting by AP and ATV
The journalists faced charges over the video they shot at blogger Otabek Sattoriy's trial.

Three Uzbek journalists and a private businesswoman have been sentenced on charges of libel and disobeying the authorities.

The Supreme Court said on November 3 that a lower court in the southern region of Qashqadaryo sentenced the same day Elyorbek Tojiboev, a correspondent with the Effect.uz website, to three years in a colony settlement.

In the tightly controlled former Soviet republic, decisions by regional courts are very often made public by the Supreme Court.

A colony settlement is a dormitory-like penitentiary located near an industrial facility where convicts work alongside the general public.

Two other journalists with Effect.uz, Akbar Nurimbetov and Hamidjon Ahmedov, were handed parole-like sentences of three and and 2 1/2 years, respectively.

Another defendant in the case, businesswoman Guzal Khudoyorova, was sentenced to two years of restricted freedom.

The four were found guilty of libel, insulting representatives of public authorities, and disobeying the authorities.

The charges against the journalists and Khudoyorova stemmed from a video the reporters shot in January at the trial of blogger Otabek Sattoriy, where a judge and several journalists engaged in an argument regarding the legality of the media presence in court.

After the journalists published the video, the region's Judges Councils filed a lawsuit against the reporters and Khudoyorova, who had been present in court backing the journalists' demand that they had a right to cover the trial of Sattoriy.

The Judges Council accused the four of insulting the judge and bailiffs, disobeying an official order to leave the courtroom, and spreading untruthful information about the authorities by publishing the video.

It is not known how the reporters and Khudoyorova pleaded.

In June, several journalists from Effect.uz were beaten in the eastern city of Andijon by the son of the city council's chairman.

In May, a court in the southern Surxondaryo region sentenced Sattoriy, who has been known for reports critical of local government, to 6 1/2 years in prison on what he and rights groups called "trumped-up" extortion and slander charges.

Sattoriy rejected the charges as politically motivated.

Uzbekistan is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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