London, 18 Jan – At the beginning of 2018, Citing Iran’s “state television”, AFP reported that while making a clear allusion to the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), Rouhani told President Macron, “We criticize the fact that a group has a base in France and acts against the Iranian people and encourages violence. We expect the French government to act against this terrorist group “.
These remarks reflected above all the anxiety of the mullahs’ regime in the face of the expansion of the uprising against the religious dictatorship and the growing popularity of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).and the Iranian Resistance. Rouhani accused the MEK of violence, while the European Union, its member countries, as well as the United States, strongly criticized the Iranian regime for the repression of demonstrations, killing and seriously injuring many people and President Macron has expressed concern on the death of the protestors. To date, dozens of unarmed protesters have been killed by Revolutionary Guards and thousands more arrested.
As stated by Kasra Nejat in Columbia tribune, according to the opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), at least 8,000 people were detained within the first two weeks; the regime admits to approximately half this number. Its judiciary was quick to threaten death sentences for “those most responsible.”
There is little mystery about what sort of charges will be used to justify such killings; a wide range of political offenses can result in execution in the Islamic Republic, including membership in banned organizations and the crime of mohabareh, or “enmity against God.” In fact, the latter was codified in Iranian law largely for the purpose of establishing death as the default punishment for members of the leading opposition group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).
Tehran has made every effort to suppress and destroy MEK since the advent of the Islamic Republic. The organization played a role in the 1979 revolution against the Shah, but opposed the establishment of absolute clerical rule.
Since then, it has been a tireless advocate for regime change in favor of a democratic system.
In the wake of the 2009 uprising, as dozens of people were executed, assassinated or tortured to death, some were singled out for harsh treatment on the basis of alleged connections to the MEK. The actual role that the organization played in those protests is difficult to determine with certainty, but given the widespread popularity of the MEK, it was no doubt significant. That popularity has only grown since 2009, as has the organization’s roster of allies in foreign governments and international policy circles.
The latest protests are a prime example. Iran’s highest authority, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, weighed in by placing much of the blame upon the MEK. Referring to the group by the familiar pejorative term “hypocrites,” Khamenei declared that they had been “ready for months” to instigate the mass protests which spread to more than 100 towns and cities in a matter of days.
He attributed one of the protesters’ slogans, “no to high prices” exclusively to the MEK. People in various localities were also heard to chant “no Syria, no Iraq; I will give my life only for Iran,” signaling that they were taking their cue from the MEK in condemning Tehran’s activities in the broader Middle East.
Here’s a brief chronology of semi-official Iranian state outlets pinpointing this reality:
Dec. 29, 2017—Astan-e-Razavi TV: Mashhad’s Friday prayer imam Alamolhoda blamed the PMOI/MEK and the U.S. for organizing the growing protests.
Dec. 31, 2017—Daneshju News Agency: Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s high representative in the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said, “When [NCRI President] Maryam Rajavi officially sends messages and calls on people to pour into the streets, it’s proof that they are the first to be present in the uprisings.”
Dec. 31, 2017—Fars News Agency (affiliated with the IRGC): In an interview with the al-Mayadeen TV network, Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said the PMOI/MEK is the flagbearer of this Saudi scenario and pledged to retaliate.
Dec. 31, 2017—Dolat-e-Bahar website (affiliated with former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad): The order for the uprisings was given by the evil triangle (US, UK and Israel), paid for by the Saudis and implemented by the PMOI/MEK.
Dec. 31, 2017—Resalat daily (affiliated with Khamenei’s faction): The uprisings’ organization on Saturday prove that the PMOI/MEK provides the leading infrastructure, and intelligence services such as Mossad, CIA and MI6 were their associates. The secret of why the French continue to provide service to the PMOI/MEK in Paris was revealed in recent unrests. This episode was similar to those of 2009. At the time, the excuse was “vote rigging.” Today, it’s “high prices” and “inflation.”
Dec. 31, 2017—Tasnim News Agency (affiliated with the IRGC Quds Force): In a video message to the protestors, the MEK leader called for the focus of the rebellion to expand. The MEK also supported uprisings in 2009.
Dec. 31, 2017—Tasnim News Agency blamed the MEK for the destruction of public property in Tehran and setting the Iranian flag ablaze.
Dec. 31, 2017—Youth Journalists Club website wired a report saying the PMOI/MEK “is behind the recent turmoil and manages it.”
Jan. 1, 2018—Mohammad Ali Asoudi, a senior consultant to Khamenei’s representative in the IRGC, in an interview with the ‘Daneshju’ News Agency: “Regarding the presence of PMOI/MEK members and affiliates in these riots, it is notable that when Maryam Rajavi officially sends a message and calls on everyone to rush to the streets, it is evident that their members and supporters are in the front row.”
Jan. 1, 2018—FOX News website: A leaked report provided to FOX News shows how [Khamenei] met with political leaders and heads of the country’s security forces to discuss how to tamp down on the deadly nationwide protests…
The meeting notes that the leader of the NCRI, Maryam Rajavi, and the “Infidels,” which the translation says refers to “the West,” “are united for the first time.” It continued, “Maryam Rajavi is hoping for regime change,” saying the protests are “definitely organized,” and “the security forces report that the MEK is very active and is leading and directing them.”
Tens of thousands of Iranians had banded together in calling for regime change, the central demand of the MEK and its parent coalition, the NCRI, led by Maryam Rajavi. It was impossible for Khamenei or other regime authorities to deny the MEK’s role. In turn, those same authorities were forced to acknowledge their failure to stamp out Iran’s most active and wide-ranging opposition movement.
This is not to imply that the regime’s efforts to destroy the movement are over. Quite the contrary. By admitting the extent of the MEK’s influence, Khamenei has potentially set the stage for a broader crackdown. There is no telling how many Iranians could face capital punishment for merely protesting alongside the MEK.
It is, therefore, crucial that Western governments, the United Nations, and human rights organizations keep a close eye on Iran in the aftermath of the protests, and make it clear that there will be serious consequences for political violence and the suppression of the people’s will.
Now that even Khamenei has highlighted the strength of the MEK and the popularity of its calls for regime change, Western leaders should consider the implications for their Iran policy. Tehran has made every effort to portray an image of stability, while denying that it faces serious domestic threats. Now that the secret is out, the world should recognize the opportunity that the MEK and the Iranian people have to bring democracy to their country.
A Long Conflict between the Clerical Regime and the MEK
The origins of the MEK date back to before the 1979 Iranian Revolution., the MEK helped to overthrow the dictatorship of Shah Reza Pahlavi, but it quickly became a bitter enemy of the emerging the religious fascism under the pretext of Islamic Republic. To this day, the MEK and NCRI describe Ruhollah Khomenei and his associates as having co-opted a popular revolution in order to empower themselves while imposing a fundamentalist view of Islam onto the people of Iran.
Under the Islamic Republic, the MEK was quickly marginalized and affiliation with it was criminalized. Much of the organization’s leadership went to neighboring Iraq and built an exile community called Camp Ashraf, from which the MEK organized activities aimed at ousting the clerical regime and bringing the Iranian Revolution back in line with its pro-democratic origins. But the persistence of these efforts also prompted the struggling regime to crack down with extreme violence on the MEK and other opponents of theocratic rule.
The crackdowns culminated in the massacre of political prisoners in the summer of 1988, as the Iran-Iraq War was coming to a close. Thousands of political prisoners were held in Iranian jails at that time, many of them having already served out their assigned prison sentences. And with the MEK already serving as the main voice of opposition to the regime at that time, its members and supporters naturally made up the vast majority of the population of such prisoners.
As the result of a fatwa handed down by Khomeini, the regime convened what came to be known as the Death Commission, assigning three judges the task of briefly interviewing prisoners to determine whether they retained any sympathy for the MEK or harbored any resentment toward the existing government. Those who were deemed to have shown any sign of continued opposition were sentenced to be hanged. After a period of about three months, an estimated 30,000 people had been put to death. Many other killings of MEK members preceded and followed that incident, so that today the Free Iran rally includes an annual memorial for approximately 120,000 martyrs from the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.
The obvious motive behind the 1988 massacre and other such killings was the destruction of the MEK. And yet it has not only survived but thrived, gaining allies to form the NCRI and acquiring the widespread support that is put on display at each year’s Free Iran rally. In the previous events, the keynote speech was delivered by Maryam Rajavi, who has been known to receive several minutes of applause from the massive crowd as she takes the stage. Her speeches provide concrete examples of the vulnerability of the clerical regime and emphasize the ever-improving prospects for the MEK to lead the way in bringing about regime change.
The recipients of that message are diverse and they include more than just the assembled crowd of MEK members and supporters. The expectation is that the international dignitaries at each year’s event will carry the message of the MEK back to their own governments and help to encourage more policymakers to recognize the role of the Iranian Resistance in the potential creation of a free and democratic Iranian nation. It is also expected that the event will inspire millions of Iranians to plan for the eventual removal of the clerical regime. And indeed, the MEK broadcasts the event via its own satellite television network, to millions of Iranian households with illegal hookups.
MEK’s Domestic Activism and Intelligence Network
What’s more, the MEK retains a solid base of activists inside its Iranian homeland. In the run-up to this year’s Free Iran rally the role of those activists was particularly evident, since the event comes just a month and a half after the latest Iranian presidential elections, in which heavily stage-managed elections resulted in the supposedly moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani securing reelection. His initial election in 2013 was embraced by some Western policymakers as a possible sign of progress inside the Islamic Republic, but aside from the 2015 nuclear agreement with six world powers, none of his progressive-sounding campaign promises have seen the light of day.
Rouhani’s poor record has provided additional fertile ground for the message of the MEK and Maryam Rajavi. The Iranian Resistance has long argued that change from within the regime is impossible, and this was strongly reiterated against the backdrop of the presidential elections, when MEK activists used graffiti, banners, and other communications to describe the sitting president as an “imposter.” Many of those same communications decried Rouhani’s leading challenger, Ebrahim Raisi, as a “murderer,” owing to his leading role in the massacre of MEK supporters in 1988.
That fact helped to underscore the domestic support for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, insofar as many people who participated in the election said they recognized Raisi as the worst the regime had to offer, and that they were eager to prevent him from taking office. But this is not to say that voters saw Rouhani in a positive light, especially where the MEK is concerned. Under the Rouhani administration, the Justice Minister is headed by Mostafa Pourmohammadi, who also served on the Death Commission and declared as recently as last year that he was proud of himself for having carried out what he described as God’s command of death for MEK supporters.
With this and other aspects of the Islamic Republic’s record, the MEK’s pre-election activism was mainly focused on encouraging Iranians to boycott the polls. The publicly displayed banners and posters urged a “vote for regime change,” and many of them included the likeness of Maryam Rajavi, suggesting that her return to Iran from France would signify a meaningful alternative to the hardline servants of the clerical regime who are currently the only option in any Iranian national election.
Naturally, this direct impact on Iranian politics is the ultimate goal of MEK activism. But it performs other recognizable roles from its position in exile, not just limited to the motivational and organization role of the Free Iran rally and other, smaller gatherings. In fact, the MEK rose to particular international prominence in 2005 when it released information that had been kept secret by the Iranian regime about its nuclear program. These revelations included the locations of two secret nuclear sites: an uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water plant at Arak, capable of producing enriched plutonium.
As well as having a substantial impact on the status of international policy regarding the Iranian nuclear program, the revelations also highlighted the MEK’s popular support and strong network inside Iran. Although Maryam Rajavi and the rest of the leadership of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran reside outside of the country, MEK affiliates are scattered throughout Iranian society with some even holding positions within hardline government and military institutions, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Drawing upon the resources of that intelligence network, the MEK has continued to share crucial information with Western governments in recent years, some of it related to the nuclear program and some of it related to other matters including terrorist training, military development, and the misappropriation of financial resources. The MEK has variously pointed out that the Revolutionary Guard controls well over half of Iran’s gross domestic product, both directly and through a series of front companies and close affiliates in all manner of Iranian industries.
In February of this year, the Washington, D.C. office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran held press conferences to detail MEK intelligence regarding the expansion of terrorist training programs being carried out across Iran by the Revolutionary Guards. The growth of these programs reportedly followed upon direct orders from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and coincided with increased recruitment of foreign nationals to fight on Tehran’s behalf in regional conflicts including the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars.
In the weeks following that press conference, the MEK’s parent organization also prepared documents and held other talks explaining the source of some of the Revolutionary Guards’ power and wealth. Notably, this series of revelations reflected upon trends in American policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran. And other revelations continue to do so, even now.
MEK Intelligence Bolstering US Policy Shifts
Soon after taking office, and around the time the MEK identified a series of Revolutionary Guard training camps, US President Donald Trump directed the State Department to review the possibility of designating Iran’s hardline paramilitary as a foreign terrorist organization. Doing so would open the Revolutionary Guards up to dramatically increased sanctions – a strategy that the MEK prominently supports as a means of weakening the barriers to regime change within Iran.
The recent revelations of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran have gone a long way toward illustrating both the reasons for giving this designation to the Revolutionary Guards and the potential impact of doing so. Since then, the MEK has also used its intelligence gathering to highlight the ways in which further sanctioning the Guards could result in improved regional security, regardless of the specific impact on terrorist financing.
For example, in June the NCRI’s Washington, D.C. office held yet another press conference wherein it explained that MEK operatives had become aware of another order for escalation that had been given by Supreme Leader Khamenei, this one related to the Iranian ballistic missile program. This had also been a longstanding point of contention for the Trump administration and the rest of the US government, in light of several ballistic missile launches that have been carried out since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations, including an actual strike on eastern Syria.
That strike was widely viewed as a threatening gesture toward the US. And the MEK has helped to clarify the extent of the threat by identifying 42 separate missile sites scattered throughout Iran, including one that was working closely with the Iranian institution that had previously been tasked with weaponizing aspects of the Iranian nuclear program.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) led by Maryam Rajavi is thus going to great lengths to encourage the current trend in US policy, which is pointing to more assertiveness and possibly even to the ultimate goal of regime change. The MEK is also striving to move Europe in a similar direction, and the July 1 gathering is likely to show further progress toward that goal. This is because hundreds of American and European politicians and scholars have already declared support for the NCRI and MEK and the platform of Maryam Rajavi. The number grows every year, while the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran continues to collect intelligence that promises to clarify the need for regime change and the practicality of their strategy for achieving it.