MEK-ing Headway

The Guardian reports:

A long-standing and prominent Iranian opposition group must be struck off the government’s list of proscribed terrorist organisations, the appeal court ruled yesterday.

In a move attacked by the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, and by senior Iranian officials, the court dismissed ministers’ claims that the People’s Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) was “concerned in terrorism”.

Three judges led by Lord Phillips, the lord chief justice, refused Smith leave to contest a decision by the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission last year that to proscribe the group was “perverse”. Smith “could not reasonably have formed the view” then that the PMOI “intended in future to revert to terrorism”, they said.

…Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the Iranian Resistance movement, said the terror label had inflicted enormous damage on the Iranian people. “The United Kingdom and western governments owe the people of Iran an apology over this shameful designation,” she said.

The AFP adds:

The United States will be under pressure to stop banning an Iranian opposition movement as “terrorist” following a court ruling Wednesday in Britain, a former opposition spokesman said.

…Encouraged by the ruling was Alireza Jafarzadeh, who was spokesman for the National Resistance Council of Iran (NRCI), the PMOI’s political wing, until the State Department banned both as a “foreign terrorist organization” in 2003.

…”Congress, which was putting pressure before, is going to doubly put pressure on the State Department,” Jafarzadeh said.

He claimed public opinion opposed the designation in a political climate in which Washington accuses Iran of supporting Shiite militias in Iraq and of pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

PMOI is also known as Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), and concerns about its activity are long-standing. Liberal hawk blog Harry’s Place listed these last July:

The MEK is led by a husband and wife, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, it “has increasingly come to resemble a cult.” During the 1970s, the Council adds, MEK supported “killings of U.S. military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Tehran” as well as “the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by Iranian revolutionaries.” In 1991, MEK assisted “Saddam Hussein’s suppression of the 1991 Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish uprisings.” In other words, the group collaborated in genocidal massacres.

The MEK claims to seek a secular and democratic Iran; it promises free elections. The truth is much more sinister. Elizabeth Rubin emphasized the cultist nature of the organisation in a detailed report (New York Times Magazine , July 13, 2003)…

That report can be seen here. Highlights:

…the Mujahedeen operates like any other military dictatorship. Mujahedeen members have no access to newspapers or radio or television, other than what is fed them. As the historian Abrahamian told me, “No one can criticize Rajavi.” And everyone must go through routine self-criticism sessions. “It’s all done on tape, so they have records of what you say. If there’s a sign of resistance, you are considered not revolutionary enough, and you need more ideological training. Either people breakaway or succumb.”

Salahaddin Mukhtadi, an Iranian historian in exile who still maintains communications with the Mujahedeen because it’s the strongest armed opposition to the Iranian regime, told me that Mujahedeen members “are locked up if they disagree with anything. And sometimes killed.”

Afshari, who fled the group 10 years ago, told me how friendship was forbidden. No two people could sit alone and talk together, especially about their former lives…Though Maryam and Massoud finagled it so they could be together, they forced everyone else into celibacy. “They told us, ‘We are at war, and soldiers cannot have wives and husbands,'”

Rubin’s piece also quotes Maryam Rajavi as having allegedly advised her fighters in 1991 to take “the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards”.

MEK was also the subject of a damning Human Rights Watch report which made the same complaints. MEK’s response has been to suggest that such critics have either been hoodwinked by, or are in collusion with, Iranian security services. PMOI officially renounced violence in 2001, and in the USA members of the neo-conservative right have been lobbying on its behalf; the above Harry’s Place posting was written in opposition to a pro-MEK piece by Daniel Pipes. However, in the UK support for PMOI has been cross-party, and in January Labour peer Robin Corbett wrote a piece in which he asserted that the government’s motivation for the ban was to placate the Iranian government. Of course, a group may indeed be non-terrorist and the enemy of something harmful while still remaining very dodgy. MEK believes that it should be supported because of the repressive acts and belligerence of the Iranian government, and we should remember that new people joining a group or internal dissent can have a moderating effect. However, we should also bear in mind factors such as the following:

(Hat tip: Ruth Gledhill, who judges the government’s opposition to PMOI to be a form of religious persecution)

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