Statement by FreeLatifa co founder David Haigh on confirmation from Amnesty International that his mobile phone was hacked with controversial Pegasus app


Statement by David Haigh on confirmation from Amnesty International that his mobile phone was hacked with controversial Pegasus app

Hacking was ‘state-sponsored harassment of a witness’

London, UK: 02 August 2021

David Haigh, the human rights lawyer appointed by Sheikha Latifa of Dubai in 2018 to represent her against her father, the Dubai ruler, founder of legal advocacy NGO Detained International, and former managing director of Premier League football club Leeds United, has issued a statement after Amnesty International confirmed his phone was hacked by the notorious hacking software “Pegasus”.

Haigh was speaking after researchers for Amnesty established that he is believed to be the first person in the UK whose phone has been found to still contain evidence of the Pegasus spyware, which has the ability to self-delete. This has provided valuable information for those tracking the global abuse that the Pegasus app has been used for.

Commenting on the discovery of the Pegasus software on his mobile, David Haigh said:

“I am both horrified and relieved at this news. Horrified because it shows that a government of a sovereign state is willing to hack into my phone while I am in a hospital as an inpatient seeking treatment for PTSD that arose due to the torture they inflicted on me; relieved because it confirms what I was saying all along about my phone being hacked. It also makes sense of a lot of activity intended to thwart our representation of Princess Latifa of Dubai and other victims of UAE injustice.

“Having spent 22 months in jail in Dubai in 2014-16 for crimes I never committed (9 of which  for the trumped-up offence of ‘Twitter Abuse’ of which I was ultimately acquitted), and been tortured and raped in that period of incarceration, I am still undergoing treatment for the physical and emotional scars. That includes lengthy admissions to the Nightingale and Priory hospitals in London, amounting to nine months inpatient treatment and counting, as well as a continuing legal battle to clear my name from the malicious and unfounded allegations filed by an ex-employer (owned and controlled by UAE royal family members) with the support of the state of Dubai.

“It was on one of my visits to the Nightingale in early August 2020 that my phone was hacked using the Pegasus software. The evidence discovered by Amnesty, along with the timing, overwhelmingly indicates this was the UAE. Amnesty tell me that, while many phones are on a leaked list of victims of Pegasus, due to the ability of the software to infect phones and then delete itself evidence such as mine is rare. I am informed I am the first person, at least from the UK, to have clear evidence that Pegasus was placed on their phone and information taken/deleted. This is because of a fortuitous twist of fate caused by the UAE’s disgusting practice of pursuing a victim while he is undergoing treatment – my visit to the Nightingale meant I switched off my phone for a few days, thereby perhaps stopping the self-delete function.

“The timing makes sense of a lot of other things. The hacking of my phone happened 10 days after we lost contact with Princess Latifa after having had communication with her for over a year and a half via a smartphone we managed to smuggle into the Dubai jail where she was being held against her will. It also came just 10 days before the UAE suddenly did a diplomatic U-turn and became only the third Arab state to recognise Israel. In addition, it came at the exact time I was due to meet representatives of a supportive royal family member of Latifa in London. Further, at the time last year I recall I has been followed when I left the hospital. Including when I met the BBC Panorama producers on the 3rd August 2020, hours later the illegal spyware was on my phone. Equally alarmingly, a couple of hours after my phone was hacked, a fraudulent bankruptcy application was apparently made by me from my device, something which has hampered not only my own fight for justice the last year as I seek to have it set aside, but importantly my ability to fight for and represent other victims of injustice in the UAE, including Princess Latifa..

“When you consider that (a) Tiina Jauhiainen and I were the only two people authorised directly by Latifa to represent her at the time, (b) that we had mounted a high profile and successful campaign to secure her safety and release, (c) that I am a witness in the Cambridgeshire police investigation into the 2000 kidnap of Latifa’s sister Sheikha Shamsa, which an English High Court judge found Latifa’s father to have orchestrated, (d) Tiina Jauhiainen  was a witness in the English High Court custody battle between the Dubai ruler and Princess Haya of Jordan and I had provided evidence to Princess Hayas lawyers and had been named in fact finding judgment of that case and (d) I am a witness in both Latifa’s case and in my own cases against the UAE, what the UAE have done with this hacking amounts to state-sponsored harassment of a witness and a legal representative. This is illegal and regarded as unethical around the world. The evidence that we presented to the BBC that appeared on its Panorama programme on 16 February 2021 showed the UAE in all its gruesome colours, and yet this hacking of my files when I was in a clinic takes it to a whole new level.

“For my part, I reported the illegal hacking of my phone and surveillance of me to Devon and Cornwall police and to Cambridgeshire police who have now confirmed they are in contact with Amnesty International and are investigating, I have also reported it to my network provider o2, who to date have not responded. 

“Ultimately, what the Amnesty researchers have uncovered is an attack on human rights by a despotic regime. Since I returned from Dubai in 2016, I have used my profile as the former Managing Director of Premier league football club Leeds United and my experience of the injustices and human rights abuses of the UAE to assist countless people who suffer such horrors. In 2018 I founded a legal advocacy NGO Detained International to provide pro bono assistance to the victims of the UAE’s human rights abuses; Latifa was one of those victims. This made me a target of the UAE. I have experienced harassment, intimidation and defamation of the worst kind. It seems there is no level to which the UAE will not stoop – I even had pictures of me in hospital in London circulated online whilst I was receiving treatment for painkiller addiction resulting from the torture I suffered at the hands of the Dubai authorities, as were hacked emails about my treatment and medication. As recently as April this year pictures of my home and my elderly parents’ homes were circulated online; even a former business partner was enlisted to provide confidential information about my life, partner, friends, family and treatment and to use it to cause me extreme distress and thwart my human rights work. As a result, my local police have twice put me on a police protection list, installing a safe room in my home and providing me with GPS trackers and police alarms.

In light of the revelations exposing the staggering scale of surveillance targeted at human rights defenders including lawyers, politicians, journalists facilitated by Israeli NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, based in Israel, I call on the British government to act on the promise made by the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that those responsible for human rights violations would be brought to justice, and to this end to use the ‘Magnitsky’ sanctions he announced last year. The government should also support my call for the British police to investigate all use of Pegasus software on British soil.

“Further, myself and Detained International back the call today by  ICFUAE, MENA Rights and over 30 other fellow human rights defenders and call for an immediate halt to the use, sale and transfer of surveillance technology to autocratic oppressive governments across the Middle East and North Africa (’s).

“Finally, I’d like to thank the researchers working for Amnesty International, Forbidden Stories, The Guardian and all those who have uncovered the truth about the Pegasus spyware, NSO and the despicable and dangerous regimes like the UAE that use it. It is vital that we do not let these regimes get away with human rights abuses and interference in other countries, and that we stand up for people, not just those like Latifa who might still see justice but those for whom it is too late, notably the courageous Emirati human rights defender Alaa Al Siddiqi, who helped me on the Latifa case and who recently died in a “car accident” in the UK.” 


David Haigh

+44 (0) 7397 947772

+44 (0) 203 900 1188

Press to date:

Notes for Editors:


  1. NSO Group’s spyware Pegasus has been used to facilitate human rights violations around the world on a massive scale, according to a major investigation into the leak of 50,000 phone numbers of potential surveillance targets. These include heads of state, activists and journalists, including Jamal Khashoggi’s family and Princess Latifa, the daughter of the Dubai ruler. 
  • The Pegasus Project is a ground-breaking collaboration by more than 80 journalists from 17 media organizations in 10 countries coordinated by Forbidden Stories, a Paris-based media non-profit, with the technical support of Amnesty International, who conducted cutting- edge forensic tests on mobile phones to identify traces of the spyware

UK Court case find David Haigh was tortured and raped by Dubai police in 2015 and 2015

  • In 2017 David Haigh gave evidence of his experience in Dubai for the defence in the case of The Lord Advocate (for the Government of the United Arab Emirates) v Garnett Black 2017 SC [EDIN] 77. David was cross examined by legal counsel for the UAE over two days and the judgment that found he was tortured and raped by Dubai police was not appealed by Dubai. The presiding judge Sherriff T Welsh found:

“(71) David Haigh struck me as an honest intelligent witness who gave his evidence with calm dignity. He was obviously a man who had been significantly physically and psychologically damaged by his ordeal in the UAE and was in the process of what I consider will be a long recovery. 

The focus of his evidence before me related to why he was in Dubai in May 2014 and what happened to him, in police detention, during the trial process there and in prison custody after his conviction. 

With regard to these matters, I believed him when he said he was lured to Dubai. I believed his evidence when he indicated that high ranking Emiratis have influence over and access to the police and other aspects of civil society. 

I have no doubt he was telling the truth about seeing a civilian lawyer who acted for his former employers, in Bur Dubai Police Station in the company of a police officer pointing at him, before being questioned and beaten by police. The clear inference that that civilian lawyer had influence as to how he was badly treated and abused by the police, is irresistible. 

I fully accept he was repeatedly seriously assaulted by Dubai police officers and Tasered while detained at Bur Dubai Police Station. I accept he was interrogated and forced to sign a document in Arabic the content of which he could not understand. 

Thereafter, I believed the account he gave of squalid, overcrowded and insanitary detention conditions in Bur Dubai Police Station. I further believe he was sexually assaulted and raped in the car park of that Police station during his detention. 

I am also satisfied that the evidence he gave about poor consular access and no consular protection while in custody is true. In addition I believed him when he said the police authorities were both actively engaged in institutionalized racism against non-Muslims and non-Emiratis within the detention block and complicit in the racial abuse administered to non-Muslims by local prisoners within the detention center. 

I would have had little hesitation in preferring the direct tested evidence of David Haigh over the untested and limited narrative in the Lord Rowbotham document”.

The full case report can be found here

  • In 2018 David, together with Tiina Jauhiainen and other founded the Free Latifa campaign to campaign for the release of missing Dubai princess Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum, the daughter of the UAE Vice President and Dubai ruler. The campaign website can be found at


About Detained International: Detained International exists to help people in their hour of need, in many cases when they have been locked up far from home for no legitimate or even apparent reason and lack the support from obvious channels like their national embassy.

Detained international is a legal advocacy NGO that provides pro bono legal advocacy to victims of injustice, inequality and other human rights violations in Dubai, the wider United Arab Emirates and wider Middle East. Founded in 2018 by UAE torture victim David Haigh, a prominent human rights lawyer and justice and equality advocate. Founded in 2018 by UAE torture victim David Haigh, a prominent human rights lawyer and justice and equality advocate.

Press Contact 

David Haigh / Peter Margetts             

Detained International

+44 (0) 7397 947772

+44 (0) 203 900 1188


Twitter:                       @DetainedIntl

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