A U.K.-based company sold nearly US$420,000 in illicit spyware to the Honduran government in the run-up to the November presidential elections despite it being banned by British law, a report in the Guardian reveals.
"British law is unambiguous… the government sold Honduras monitoring and decrypting technology expressly designed to eavesdrop on its citizens, months before the state rounded up thousands of people in a well-orchestrated surveillance operation," said opposition Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of the arms export control committee.
The U.K. government outlaws the sale of spyware to countries it perceives as having high levels of government corruption which violate the human rights of its citizens, of which Honduras is one – at least according to Transparency International.
Honduras has been in a downward spiral since a 2009 military coup ousted democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya.
The political situation has escalated since incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez, of the National Party, extended his mandate until 2022 in an election fraught with "irregularities."
Supporters of Salvador Nasralla, Hernandez' main opponent, have staged frequent large-scale national protests against the election results. Nearly 40 demonstrators have so far been killed, hundreds injured and almost 2,000 detained in the past two months, mainly by police and military forces under the direction of Hernandez.
State security forces continue to harass protesters, including following demonstrators to their homes and taking pictures. European Union officials recently called on the Honduran government to investigate the allegations of excessive state-sponsored violence.
The technology sold to the Honduran government is capable of hijacking, monitoring and tracking emails, cellular phones and online applications such as WhatsApp, a phone messaging system popular throughout Latin America.
Zelaya claims some of his WhatsApp messages were intercepted and published on fake social media platforms before being extensively shared by his followers.
Coalition spokesman Rodolfo Pastor said: "Before, during and after the 2017 presidential campaign, leaders of (Opposition) Alliance and their teams were subject to state espionage. The information published was often manipulated to create confusion, distrust or division within the opposition."
Pastor told U.S. authorities about the rogue social-media posts, but they neither investigated his claim nor tried to deter the transmissions. "I personally spoke about this with U.S. Embassy officials in Honduras as it happened and yet all went on, business as usual," he tweeted.
Russell-Moyle is now lodging a written request with the U.K. government to release the name of the cyberware company that sold the spyware, while the Campaign Against Arms Trade has called for the firm's licence to be revoked and for an investigation into the government's approval of the sale.
The U.K. Department for International Trade (DIT) charged with authorizing export sales has insisted that it only approves legal sales.
In Honduras today, the National Congress approved the reform to its Cybersecurity Law, dubbed the "gag law" by opponents who say it will allow the government to monitor and penalize anything published on social media.
The bill was introduced earlier this week by National Party members who say its implementation will "protect people against political, ethnic and religious differences."