Pegasus/Morocco affair: Did UNESCO fund the investigation?

By Jeune Afrique

Posted on Thursday, 29 July 2021 07:45
Audrey Azoulay, Unesco’s director-general, in Paris, 2017 © Vincent Fournier/JA

The Moroccan ministry of foreign affairs is convinced that Unesco’s division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, headed by South Africa’s Guy Berger, contributed financially to the Forbidden Stories investigation, which directly implicates the Moroccan security services and its use of Pegasus spyware (a claim that Rabat denies).

In response, the security services has informed Unesco’s director-general Audrey Azoulay (daughter of André Azoulay, an advisor to King Mohammed VI) of its suspicions.

According to internal Unesco documents that we managed to obtain, Freedom Voices Network – which founded the Forbidden Stories project – did indeed apply for a grant from the Unesco Global Media Defence Fund in 2020, which was approved on 12 October 2020.

The amount granted, which was to be paid in three installments between November 2020 and July 2021, is admittedly small ($35,000) compared to amounts that the association has received in recent years from various funds and foundations.

For instance, it received $600,000 in 2018 and 2019 from donors such as Luminate (eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s fund), Open Society (George Soros), the Veronica Foundation, etc.

Unesco is neither associated with nor informed of the content of the investigations that are carried out through this support.

There is no indication that the institution in Fontenoy was aware of the Pegasus survey’s precise content, since the project submitted does not specify it, for reasons of confidentiality. The fact remains that Morocco – as a member of Unesco that is ‘up to date with its contributions’, as Rabat made sure to point out – does not appreciate the allegations that have been made.

In fact, it has also filed a complaint – citing ‘defamation’ – against Forbidden Stories (whose founder, Laurent Richard, was one of the panelists that Unesco invited to the World Press Freedom Day two months ago.)


Following the publication of this article, Unesco’s press service provided the following clarifications:

“Support of $35,000 has been provided to Forbidden Stories through the Global Media Defence Fund – one of 44 projects supported through the Fund’s first call for proposals in 2020. This information has been publicly available on the Unesco website for many months.

“Unesco is neither associated with nor informed of the content of the investigations that are carried out through this support. Unesco firmly believes in defending any media organisation’s editorial independence. Through this funding, our aim is to support investigative journalism against the threats faced by journalists around the world.”

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