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Distinguishing between rumours and facts about the MEK

Distinguishing between rumours and facts about the MEK

Joseph Omidvar
October 4, 2011

As the terrorist label of an Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e-khalq (MEK), is up for review by the U.S. State Department, many Iran regime lobbyists in the United States have devoted themselves to prevent the delisting of this organisation. Why these pressure groups and lobbyists have so much against an Iranian opposition group that strives for a democratic Iran at first seems strange. But if we take a close look at the policy suggestions of these pressure groups, such as NIAC, for futile appeasement of the brutal religious dictatorship in Iran, then we begin to understand the special interests involved, further accentuated by direct and indirect Iranian regime funding of such groups and efforts to discredit the MEK.

Furthermore, the world media needs to be more critical in sourcing their news stories on the MEK and should avoid basing their reports on rumours and speculations when there are numerous sources of real information available about this opposition group. News media should present data, facts and structured arguments so that people can build their own opinion rather than being fed rumours. Regarding the MEK, there are numerous facts that need to be clarified which have been ignored or overseen during the past months' debates.

Why is the MEK on the terrorist list to begin with? Rumours say that the organisation was involved in the killings of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s, which is why the U.S. State Department has put the MEK on its list of foreign terrorist organisations. However, the facts tell a different story. Mr Martin Indyk, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs in the Clinton Administration has said “[It] was White House interest in opening up a dialogue with the Iranian government. Top Administration officials saw cracking down on the [MEK], which the Iranians had made clear they saw as a menace, as one way to do so.” With this plan in mind, the U.S. State Department, under Secretary Madeleine Albright, issued a statement in 1997 stating the MEK as a terrorist organisation “as a gesture of good will to Tehran”, a senior administration official has said. The labelling of the MEK as a terrorist organisation by the U.K. and the EU was also requested by the Iranian regime (as confessed by the former British Foreign Minister Jack Straw) and implemented accordingly.

The MEK decided to dispute this allegation in court and in 2008 won the battle and were removed from the list of foreign terrorist organisation in the U.K. and later also in the EU. All courts concluded that there was no evidence supporting that this opposition group was a terrorist organisation. In 2010, a similar legal procedure in the U.S. ended with a federal court in Washington D.C. demanded the U.S. State Department remove the organisation from their list of foreign terrorist organisations.

The rumours about this opposition group are too often made-up stories and fake allegations. These allegations are very similar to those spouted by the Iranian regime during the post-election uprisings in 2009, where the Iranian government blamed the U.S. and the west to have initiated the uprising, and where they blamed BBC for the death of Ms. Neda Agha-Soltan.

One of the most infamous allegations against the MEK is that they are a cult. But the clearest evidence against the MEK being a cult is that they have a very wide support from and actively seeks to engage with society. Their supporters include people from all levels of society and walks of life including prominent artists, academics, lawyers and politicians. Their yearly rally in mid-June hosts more than 100,000 people from all over the globe that come to show their support for this Iranian movement and for the Iranian people.

Numerous politicians, lawyers and prominent people from the international human rights community have spoken at MEK events. Unfortunately, the latest accusation is that these people have been paid to speak on the behalf of the MEK. It is tiring to see this being written and interpreted as something shameful, when it is completely normal and according to all protocols to have expenses covered when invited to speak at symposiums, conferences and meetings; it is something which countless former U.S. officials and politicians do every day. This does not mean that the person has been paid to say specific things; just that he or she has been asked to speak their opinion.

Besides the process of delisting the MEK, new developments for the group are that the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has finally come to an agreement with the residents of Camp Ashraf, where many MEK members reside, which enables them to apply for refugee status. A statement by the UNHCR says that “there is no formal requirement for individuals to disassociate themselves from the PMOI/MEK in order to apply for refugee status.” As the UNHCR at last agreed to allow the residents to keep their political rights, the residents of Camp Ashraf did not hesitate in applying for refugee status. This is a great step towards the safety of the opposition group and its members in Camp Ashraf. However, the situation in the camp is still urgent and needs immediate action.

The 3,400 Iranian MEK members that reside in this camp in Iraq have previously been attacked by Iraqi forces in at least two raids under which several unarmed residents of the camp were injured and killed. During the latest attack, in April 2011, United Nations officials confirmed the killing of 36 residents and wounding of hundreds. But despite condemnations of the Iraqi raid by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the EU and various parliaments throughout the world, nothing has changed and the residents have been left in mortal danger and their supporters in fear of another attack.

While the UNHCR processes the 3,400 applications for refugee status the lives of the residents of this camp are still in danger and human rights abuses by Iraqi troops continue unabated. Prominent members of the international community suggest that the safety of the residents can be guaranteed if the UNHCR send a monitoring team to Ashraf in cooperation with UNAMI, as their presence would prevent future Iraqi raids and the killings of the residents. In fact, this is probably the only solution for the residents’ safety as guarantees from the Iraqis have proven empty.

The MEK has many supporters inside Iran, despite rumours stating otherwise, and the residents of Camp Ashraf have become a symbol of hope and freedom for many people. The largest sign is the massive effort and resources put down by the Iranian regime to destroy this movement, as they see it being a threat to the ruling mullahs. The Iranian regime has during the past 30 years fed anti-MEK propaganda to the people inside Iran such that it is punishable to use the organisations real name (MEK is called “Monafeghin” by the Iranian regime). Moreover, anybody who has visited Camp Ashraf or has MEK relatives is hunted down and can be imprisoned and even executed because of his or her ties to the organisation.

The rumours and misinformation about the MEK makes the situation for the residents in Camp Ashraf more vulnerable as the international community does not get to hear their side of the story and keep basing much of its reports on these fake allegations. This seems to be the aim of Iran and Iraq as the Iraqi forces are not allowing journalists to enter Camp Ashraf to speak to the residents and has set up electronic jamming devices to stop any communication with the camp. The delisting of the MEK is therefore critical since by keeping the MEK on the list of foreign terrorist organisations, the West is helping the Iranian regime justify the execution of MEK supporters inside Iran, the blockade of Camp Ashraf and future attacks on the 3400 unarmed MEK members in the camp. Above all, delisting is the only just outcome and the only one based on the evidence.

ENDS

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