Recently, the German magazine Der Spiegel published an article on the leading Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). The article repeated a laundry list of lies and baseless accusations against the group’s “war footing” and its treatment of the more than 2,000 members now living in Albania. These accusations have followed the PMOI members from their previous residence of Camp Ashraf, from which they were forced to flee under pressure from Iraqi militant groups affiliated with Iran’s theocratic regime.
Among persons with less than expert knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs relatively few have followed media narratives about the PMOI over the long term. So, many of those who encounter stories like Der Spiegel’s are hearing the slanderous allegations for the first time. They do not realize that every item on the list can be traced back to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and other purveyors of Iranian propaganda. Many casual observers do not realize that Tehran has been obsessed with destroying or delegitimizing the PMOI virtually since the inception of the clerical regime.
This is because the PMOI has always been the most prominent advocate of a democratic alternative to the theocratic system that was established by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. The organization’s members were chief among those who were targeted by the new regime’s purges in the immediate aftermath of the revolution. And in 1988, the PMOI was also the primary target of a campaign of mass executions.
In a matter of just a few months, political prisoners were systematically brought before tribunals to face the briefest interrogations over their political affiliations. Those who failed to demonstrate loyalty to the fledgling regime were scheduled to be hanged in groups and buried in secret mass graves. In the end, an estimated 30,000 people were killed, although the exact figures may never be known because the regime has enforced internal secrecy while the international community has never properly followed up on reports with a formal inquiry.
Even the most dramatic accounts of the 1988 massacre only scratch the surface of the Iranian regime’s violence against political dissenters in general and the PMOI in particular. All told, more than 100,000 members and supporters of that organization have been killed by way of execution, torture, targeted assassination and foreign terrorism over the past 40 years. Yet this context is conspicuously absent from the Spiegel article and various other that repeat the lies of a regime that has been thwarted at every turn in its bid to destroy its political enemies.
Despite the 1988 massacre and other killings, the PMOI has only grown in both popularity and organizational strength over the years. It is part of a coalition known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which holds a rally for Iran Freedom each summer near Paris. The event tends to attract approximately 100,000 attendees including Iranian expatriates and political supporters drawn from the fields of politics, national defense, intelligence, and academia in the US, Europe and much of the world. I have been to most of these annual meetings in Paris in the past decade.
Last June, the NCRI rally also attracted two terrorists in the Iranian regime’s employ, though they were stopped at the Belgian border while in possession of 500 grams of explosive than had been provided to them by a high-ranking Iranian diplomat. That individual, Assadollah Assadi, was arrested by European authorities alongside the two would-be bombers and another co-conspirator. The incident shined a particularly bright light on Tehran’s persistent desire to stamp out the democratic Resistance movement by any means necessary. Also in 2018, Iranian operatives were arrested in Albania for plotting attacks on the PMOI compound and two spies were indicted in US Federal Court for gathering intelligence that appeared to set the stage for attacks on Resistance activists in that country as well.
Recent discussions of Iranian affairs, as in last week’s Warsaw conference on Middle East policy and the Munich Security Conference, have expressed little to no doubt about Tehran’s willingness to continue using terrorism in an effort to strengthen its hold on power. In the wake of those discussions, it should be understood that such a regime must be all the more willing to use lies and propaganda as part of that same effort. Such tactics carry much less risk and they have the benefit of potentially convincing Western policymakers to accept a global role for the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, on the assumption that there is simply no alternative.
But the reality is that there is an alternative, and one that has been widely embraced by the Iranian people, who participated in nationwide demonstrations against the clerical regime all throughout 2018. Even Iranian officials acknowledged these protests as the embrace of PMOI and NCRI slogans and leadership, and it is no secret why.
In contrast to the picture that Tehran has tried to paint of the Iranian democratic opposition, the NCRI President Maryam Rajavi has outlined a 10-point plan for the country’s future which clearly enshrines free elections, respect for human rights, equality between men and women, separation of religion and State and all the core principle of democratic governance that the clerical regime has been opposing for 40 years. Mrs Rajavi’s political platform has received the support of hundreds of members of the European Parliament and other parliaments throughout the world. It is time for our governments to recognize NCRI as the democratic alternative to the ruling religious dictatorship in Iran.
*Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish professor of atomic and nuclear physics, was vice-president of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014. He is currently president of the Brussels-based International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ)