The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) was founded on September 6, 1965, by Mohammad Hanifnejad, Said Mohsen, and Ali-Ashgar Badizadgan. All engineers, they had earlier been members of the Freedom Movement (also known as the Liberation Movement), created by Medhi Bazargan in May 1961.1
The Freedom Movement advocated the “democratic principles enshrined in the fundamental laws of the 1905-09 [Iranian] Constitution.” For two years, the group held meetings and was allowed to publish a newsletter, supporting “political freedom and the separations of power.”
Large demonstrations in Iran on June 5, 1963, erupted to protest the arrest of Ruhallah Khomeini, after he delivered an especially vitriolic speech attacking the monarchy. The Shah’s police responded with “massive fire power,” killing “thousands of people,” in what has become known as the June Uprising. The Liberation Movement supported the demonstrations and, as a result, it was outlawed, as well as other pro-democratic organizations, and Bazargan was sentenced to ten years in prison.
Two years later, the three young engineers came together to develop a new pathway to bring democracy and freedom to Iran. Replicating the actions of the Freedom Movement would lead only to the same disastrous end. Thus, a new strategy was necessary.
The three engineers formed a discussion group with twenty trusted friends and on September 20, 1965, they convened their first meeting. The members were mostly professionals living in Tehran. Twice a week they came together to discuss religion, history, philosophy, and revolutionary theory.
The PMOI’s quest culminated in a true interpretation of Islam, which is inherently tolerant and democratic, and fully compatible with the values of modern-day civilization. It took six years for the organization to formulate its progressive view of Islam and develop a strategy to replace Iran’s dictatorial monarchy with a democratic government.
The fundamentalist mullahs in Iran believe interpreting Islam is their exclusive domain. The PMOI reject this view and the cleric’s reactionary vision of Islam. The PMOI’s comprehensive interpretation of Islam proved to be more persuasive, appealing, and successful than any attempt in the past.
1) Much of the information for this website is derived from “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
Imprisonment & Executions | MEK Founders
Before the PMOI could become operational, it was penetrated by SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police. A safe house was discovered, which led to the identity of several members. Their interrogation and torture, in turn, generated additional names and arrests.
By September 1971, SAVAK had rounded up and imprisoned about 150 PMOI members, including the group’s founders and members of the Central Committee. Sixty-nine Mojahedin were brought before military tribunals and charged with attempting to overthrow the monarchy and other offenses.
The PMOI was unknown at the beginning of the tribunal trials, which were initially open to the media. The resistance organization quickly became a household name and was celebrated for its efforts to bring democracy and freedom to Iran. After members publicly disclosed they had been tortured while in custody of SAVAK, media coverage was terminated.
All of the PMOI’s leadership, including its founders and members of the Central Committee, were executed or imprisoned. Massoud Rajavi’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after an international campaign organized by Dr. Kazen Rajavi, Mossoud’s brother who lived in Geneva, and the intervention of top French officials.
Without a leadership structure, the PMOI floundered. Its remnants were taken over by pro-communists, who usurped the organization’s name and remaining assets. Low-level PMOI members were offered the choice of either supporting the new leadership and ideology or being expelled. In some cases, they were murdered.
MEK Role in 1979 Revolution
After seven years in prison, Massoud Rajavi was released on January 20, 1979, four days after the Shah fled Iran. Mr. Rajavi was in the last group of 162 political prisoners to be set free.
Four days later, Mr. Rajavi gave a speech at Tehran University that was attended by thousands of people. He discussed the PMOI’s history, his reverence for freedom, and bringing democracy to Iran. The event marked the new beginning of the Mojahedin National Movement.
The ’79 Revolution had been set into motion years earlier by President Carter, whose foreign policy emphasized human rights. The Shah feared his poor record would damage relations with the U.S. and he took steps to reduce the level of terror, including among other measures, halting the torture and execution of his opponents. Iranians, for the first time in 25 years, could demonstrate in public without the certainty of being arrested, tortured, and executed.
A broad range of political organizations, including the PMOI, united in support of removing the Shah from power. The PMOI considered the ousting of the Shah as a continuation of the 1906 Constitutional Revolution and the Mossadeq national movement in 1950 with the objective of establishing freedom in Iran.
The mullahs’ sought a different objective. In both the 1906 Revolution and the Mossadeq national movement the clerical establishment was supportive of the Shah. The mullahs, while having differences in how to modernize the country, essentially remained loyal until a short while before the revolution.
The Iranian people, having long yearned for freedom, took advantage of the consequences of Carter’s human rights policy. With the easing of repression they took to the streets to demonstrate their objection to the Shah’s dictatorial regime.
Khomeini misled the Iranian public, giving them false hope of replacing the Shah’s monarchy with a democratic government. Fundamentalist mullahs believe “all means are justified in the service of God.” This includes lying to Iranians about the structure of the new government. The mullahs pursued their own interests under the pretext of Islam, rather than support the aspirations of the public. In doing so, the mullahs betrayed Islam and the people’s sentiment.
The term “khod’ eh” means tricking one’s enemy so they misjudge events. Khomeini regularly employed this strategy to minimize opposition by Iran’s middle class, students, intellectuals, minorities, and other groups.
As an example, Khomeini falsely gave assurance to women they would be treated as equal to men. He also lied when he stated the new government would support a free press.
Another strategy employed by Khomeini to deceive the public is “tanfih,” which means to mislead about one’s true beliefs when faced with a hostile environment. To lull Americans into complacency, Khomeini reduced public attacks against the U.S. When setting up a provincial government, he endorsed Mehdi Bazargan, a longstanding pro-democracy activist, knowing that his tenure was strictly limited.
When discussing a new government, Khomeini spoke in generalities and offered few specific programs or pledges. When asked about the role of clerics in government, he lied, saying that the “clergymen, like other sectors of society, would have representatives.”1
Khomeini’s deceptions and falsehoods proved successful. The public mistakenly viewed Khomeini as an elderly statesman in opposition to the Shah’s ruthless monarchy. After the Shah was deposed, the public believed they would be allowed to choose their new government.
In the Shah’s final months of rule, he was stricken with cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy, sapping his ability to control events and hold on to power. The end came on January 16, 1979, when the Shah departed Iran never to come back.
Two weeks later, Khomeini returned from exile to Tehran. The mullahs were well organized and had largely escaped SAVAK’s wrath. “[T]he Shah did not destroy the religious institutions,” Mr. Rajavi explained. “He compromised with them, and they with him.”2 In contrast, many of the leaders supporting democracy and freedom had been imprisoned or executed, limiting their ability to fill the vacuum left by the Shah’s absence.
Almost immediately Khomeini “began to monopolize power and concentrated everything in the hands of the clerics around him,” Mr. Rajavi said.3 “He rejected the election of a constituent assembly and instead formed a clergy-dominated Assembly of Experts. He also imposed the velayat-e faqth constitution [government based on a Supreme Leader] on the Iranian people. Step by step, the fundamentalists ogre began to wipe out the achievement of the revolution and solidify an autocratic theocracy in the name of Islam.”4
1) “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004, p.50
2) “Mujahidin’s Masud Rajavi: ‘We are the only real threat to Khomeini,'” MERIP Reports, March-April 1982.
3) “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
Renewal & Hope
After Khomeini’s return to Iran, he dispatched his son, Ahmad, to meet with Massoud Rajavi. Ahmad, on behalf of Khomeini, offered Mr. Rajavi a proposal: “If you support the Imam and oppose his opponents,” he said, “all gates will be open before you and you will receive everything you want.”1
Mr. Rajavi rejected the offer, explaining the PMOI supported the establishment of a democratic government. If the Ayatollah followed this path, Mr. Rajavi pledged the full support of the Mojahedin.
At a rally on February 23, 1980, Mr. Rajavi announced the PMOI’s political platform for a new Iranian government in a speech at Tehran University. He positioned the PMOI as the main opposition party to Khomeini and the fundamentalist clerics. As explained by Mohammad Mohaddessin:
“Rajavi’s speech in Tehran University was in fact the Mojahedin’s anti-fundamentalist manifesto. The prestige and credibility that years of struggle against the Shah bestowed on the PMOI made it a prime candidate to challenge the mullahs’ power in the country. The PMOI’s emphasis on political freedoms as the most important issue of the day put it on a collision course with Khomeini and his supporters, including the KGB controlled Tudeh Party.”2
Weeks after the Shah’s overthrow, the mullahs began a secret campaign of low-level violence against the PMOI. Hezbollah gangs, called “club-wielders,” attacked PMOI offices, rallies, and supporters.
As the PMOI’s popularity increased, the Hezbollah thugs, in turn, ratcheted up their brutality and frequency of assaults. The PMOI absorbed the violent blows and refused to respond in kind. It focused its attention on peaceful struggle, hoping the strategy would eventually restore democracy and freedom to Iran. The PMOI’s strategy was to delay an all out confrontation with the regime for as long as possible.
During this period, “The PMOI became identified for its steadfastness against the religious tyranny and the regime’s efforts to impose its fundamentalist Islam on the country,” according to author Shaul Bakhash.4
In January 1980, a year after the revolution, Iran organized its first presidential election. Since Mr. Rajavi’s release from prison, the PMOI had made great strides in rebuilding the organization. It had branches and offices in more than 250 cities. The daily circulation of its newspaper, the Mojahed, reached nearly 600,000, the largest in the country.5
Mr. Rajavi announced his candidacy for president. His bid for public office received widespread support, including other parties, ethnic and religious minorities (Kurds, Sunnis, Christians, Jews, etc), students, young people, secular groups, and women.6
A week before the presidential election, Khomeini issued a fatwa, vetoing Mr. Rajavi’s candidacy. Khomeini, fearing Mr. Rajavi might win the election, banned his participation on the basis that he had not voted for Iran’s new constitution that created an authoritarian theocracy.7
Forced to withdraw from the race, Mr. Rajavi said the PMOI would continue to pursue its political goals within the constraints of the constitution and new legal system.
The mullahs increased their pressure on the PMOI. They prohibited Mojahedin representatives from appearing on university campuses. And in dozens of towns, Hezbollah club-wielders “attacked and looted Mojahedin headquarters, student societies, and meetings.”8 “In February 1980, 60,000 copies of Mojahed were seized and burned.”9
An estimated 700 PMOI supporters were injured by Hezbollah in an attack on the PMOI headquarters at Qaemshahr and another 400 were assailed in Mashad.10
Mullahs traveled from town to town spreading vitriolic lies about the PMOI. Cleric Hojjat ol-Eslam Khaz’ali, for example, told a congregation in Mashad, “Even if they [PMOI] hide in a mouse hole, we will drag them out and kill them…We are thirsty for their blood. We must close off their jugular.”11
Denied the opportunity to run for president, Mr. Rajavi submitted his candidacy for a seat in the Majlis, Iran’s parliament. In the first round, the mullahs rigged the vote tally to prevent Mr. Rajavi and other PMOI candidates from gaining a seat.
The PMOI denounced the election and documented widespread “rigging, fraud, and violence.” Ballots supporting Mr. Rajavi were diverted to Islamic Republican Party (IRP) candidates. At polling stations, people without proper identification were allowed to vote and Islamic militants filled out the ballots of other voters. In some cases, lists of IRP candidates were distributed at polling stations, violating election laws.12
Khomeini warned voters they would be considered sinners if they failed to support candidates who favored an Islamic government.13 He further manipulated the process by only promoting IRP candidates prior to the campaign and then prohibited all electronic media coverage during the campaign, disadvantaging opposition candidates.14
Protests were leveled. The government was forced to set up a commission to investigate the vote rigging and fraud, but nothing came of its action.
1) “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
4) “The Reign of the Ayatollahs,” by Shaul Bakhash, Basic Books, New York, 1984. Quoted in “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
5) “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
6) “Amendment for Sunni Moslems, Khomaini (sec) Makes Concession to Ethnic Regions,” Reuters, The Globe and Mail, January 21, 1980.
7) “The Reign of the Ayatollahs,” by Shaul Bakhash, Basic Books, New York, 1984. Quoted in “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
11) “Cheating Charged Iran Election May Be Declared Invalid,” Reuters, The Globe and Mail, March 17, 1980.
12) “Iranians Return to Polls Today,” The Globe and Mail, May 9, 1980.
13) “Parliamentary Vote Turnout Suggests Win by Iranian Clergy,” Washington Post, March 15, 1980.
Defenders of Freedom
The PMOI organized a rally at Amjadiyeh Stadium in Tehran on June 12, 1980 to protest the mullahs’ escalating despotism. Days earlier Khomeini had shut down all universities under the pretext of a cultural revolution. But in reality it was strategy to suppress the students.
More than 200,000 people attended the demonstration. Mr. Rajavi warned the crowd of Khomeini’s creeping dictatorship and urged them to “defend freedoms, freedom of speech, associations, and gatherings.” He declared the PMOI would not be intimidated. “We’re not afraid of bullets,” he said, “If freedom means death, then we will die.”1
Hezbollah thugs tried without success to force their way into the stadium. They clashed with PMOI supporters outside the facility, throwing stones and bricks, while policemen and Islamic Revolutionary Guards stood idly nearby. When the government forces later intervened, they fired tear gas into PMOI crowds and automatic weapons into the air.
As reported by Le Monde, Mr. Rajavi spoke while “fighting continued outside and his words were lost at times in a cacophony of explosions, machine-gun bursts, and ambulance horns.”2
“‘Do you hear?’ Mr. Rajavi asked as he addressed himself to the Hezbollahi. ‘We are neither Communists nor pro-Soviets as you claim. We are fighting for the total freedom and independence of Iran….Freedom is not granted,’ he cried as the crowd rose shouting to its feet. ‘It is won. A gift of the Lord, it is as indispensable as oxygen.’”3
Members of the audience were attacked as they left the stadium, leaving hundreds injured and five killed. Le Monde said “Shots were fired from nearby roofs and bodies lay on the sidewalks. Young men with bloodied faces were running in all directions.”4
With each passing day, the PMOI gained strength while Khomeini’s support drained away. The Ayatollah openly considered the possibility of defeat, stating on June 17, “Never have I so much feared seeing the Islamic Revolution end in failure.”5
On July 25, Khomeini lashed out at the Mojahedin in a radio broadcast, declaring the resistance organization to be the “main enemy.” Khomeini said “Our enemy is neither the United States, nor the Soviet Union, nor Kurdistan, but sitting right here in Tehran under our nose.” The Ayatollah continued:
“The Monafeqin [meaning hypocrites, his pejorative term for the Mojahedin] are worse than infidels. They say they are Muslims, but they act against Islam….Today, we clergymen are being called reactionaries…and those people [PMOI] are being called the intellectuals.”6
Khomeini’s speech was interpreted by the Hezbollah and Revolutionary Guards as a green light to destroy the pro-democracy organization. To avoid the further “shedding of innocent blood,” the PMOI closed down 30 additional offices across Iran.7 Weeks later, the mullahs announced a ban on all political demonstrations.
Battle Lines Drawn
The Islamic revolution appeared to be dying a slow death. Then in late September, Iraqi military forces invaded Iran, reversing the trend. Iranians everywhere rallied to a call to arms. PMOI members rushed to the battlefront to defend the country against the Iraqi invaders. (see www.mulahswar.com for more details)
Khomeini used the conflict to quash domestic opposition, arguing all challenges to the ruling mullahs should be shunned due to the war. Iraqi troops initially penetrated deep into Iranian territory. But starting in January 1981, military forces in Iran mounted a series of successful counterattacks, turning the course of the war.
On the home front, the PMOI continued its campaign for democracy and freedom. On April 24, 1981, the Mojahedin organized a demonstration to protest the killing of its members and sympathizers. More than 150,000 people took part in the rally.
The turning point came on June 20, 1981. Huge rallies were organized by the PMOI in cities across the country, including Tabriz, Rasht, Amol, Qiyamshahr, Gorgan, Babolsar, Zanjan, Karaj, Arak, Isfahan, Rirjand, Ahwaz, and Kerman.8 A half million Iranians attended the demonstration in Tehran to protest the mullahs’ tyrannical policies.
Khomeini responded by ordering Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah to crack down on the Mojahedin. Thugs blocked off streets and then shot into the crowds departing the rally, killing hundreds and injuring many more.
“Prominent clerics declared that demonstrators, irrespective of their age, would be treated as ‘enemies of God’ and as such would be executed on the spot. Hezbollahis were armed and trucked in to block off the major streets. Pasdars [members of the Revolutionary Guards] were ordered to shoot. Fifty were killed, 200 injured, and 1,000 arrested in the vicinity of Tehran University alone….The reign of terror had begun.”9
The following day, Khomeini’s regime executed hundreds of people who had been arrested, including 12 young girls. Their identities were unknown and authorities published their pictures in the daily newspaper, Ettela’at, urging their parents to claim the bodies.10
Prior to June 22, 71 PMOI members were murdered by the mullahs and another 2,500 were arrested and imprisoned. In the months and years that followed, more than 120,000 PMOI members and supporters were killed by Khomeini and the ruling mullahs. Hundreds of thousands more were imprisoned and tortured.
As a result of the bloodshed and brutality, the mullahs’ popular legitimacy vanished. It is now a fascist regime with ambitions to expand its borders throughout the world.
1) 300 Hurt in Iran After Leftist Rally Leads to Rioting,” The Globe and Mail, June 13, 1980.
2) “Iranian Left and Right Slugging It Out in Chaotic Fighting,” Le Monde article by Eric Rouleau translated by the New York Times, June 14, 1980.
4) “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
5) “Khomeini Warns Iran of Lefist Threat,” New York Times, June 17, 1980.
6) “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
7) “Khomeini Demands Government Purge,” New York Times, June 28, 1980.
8) “Reported Hiding Out in Tehran,” Associated Press, June 20, 1981.
9) “The Iranian Mojahedin,” Ervand Abrahamian, New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1989.
10) “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
While the PMOI is a political organization, its orientation, operation, and support derives from its interpretation of Islam, conceived in its formative years. The PMOI believes Islam is an inherently tolerant and democratic religion, and is fully compatible with the values of modern-day civilization.
For the Mojahedin, freedom, gender, ethnic and religious equality, human rights, and peace are not merely political commitments, but ideological principles based on its view of the Quran and the traditions and teachings of Prophet Muhammad, Shiite Imams, and other leaders.
The PMOI’s political platform and interpretation of Islam are one and the same. The combination makes the PMOI politically unique and is a major reason the organization continues today to garner broad public support.
The Shah feared the PMOI because of its popularity and support for democracy and human rights. The same is true for Iran’s mullahs. The Mojahedin’s interpretation of Islam directly discredits the clerics’ ideology, which is intolerant, extremist, genocidal, non-democratic, and misogynist.
In 1982, Mr. Rajavi discussed the PMOI and Islam in a speech as following:
“The Islam we want is nationalistic, democratic, progressive, and not opposed to science or civilization. We believe there is no contradiction between modern science and true Islam, and we believe that in Islam there must be no compulsion or dictatorship.”1
Below are additional details of the PMOI’s interpretation of Islam.
Islam is Dynamic
Mr. Rajavi described the mullah’s interpretation of the Quran as mechanical and deterministic.2 In contrast, the PMOI believes that genuine Islam is so dynamic that it never impedes social progress. It does not oppose science, technology and civilization, but cherishes and promotes them.
During Prophet Muhammad’s twenty-three year mission, Quranic verses were sometimes declared mansouke (outdated). Some verses on social and economic matters changed in the early years of the Prophet’s rule, consistent with changes in society and advancements in culture and social relationships. In the latter years of Prophet Muhammad’s life, new verses that were more advanced in dealing with such issues were revealed to him.
This explains why only 600 verses in the Quran, less than 10 percent, deal with edicts. The limited number of edicts shows the purpose of the Quran was not to legislate for society and mankind instead of human beings themselves. The Quran removed obstacles to social evolution. As the Quran states, it came to remove the chains and shackles from human beings already subjugated by oppressive rulers and regimes.3 In doing so, humans could formulate their way of life consistent with their specific historical juncture, and in complete freedom and consciousness.
Edicts & Rules of Conduct
Islam is an ideology with a comprehensive view on existence, society, and history, rather than a collection of edicts and rules of conduct on social, political, and economic matters.
Fundamentalists interpret the edicts, precepts, and temporal rules as unchangeable dogma. The PMOI believes neither the Quran nor Islam support the claim that they are unalterable and must be implemented at all times. Rather the Quran emphasizes that social and economic edicts must be formulated in each particular era to prevent decadent, anti-counter-revolutionary forces from halting the advancement of human society.
In the view of the PMOI, the rigid and reactionary interpretation of Islam, exemplified by Khomeini and fundamentalist clerics, is un-Islamic and contrary to the spirit of Islam.
The PMOI views democracy as indispensable to Islam. “Islam blossoms only in the spirit of freedom and truthfulness,” the PMOI maintains, “and therefore cannot trample upon the legitimate rights of the people.”4
The Quran says that the most important attribute that distinguishes humans from animals is their free will and individual responsibility. It is on this basis that humans are held accountable for their actions.5 Having a free will and right to choose is manifested in democracy and a government by the people.
God’s will, as far as societies are concerned, is historically realized through democratic governance. The Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad and leaders such as Ali ibn Ali Taleb, the first Shiite Imam, underscore the necessity to hand over power to the people. Their teachings emphasize the need for progress, social and economic justice, and respect for human rights. References to these values are abundant in Islamic teachings, dating back fourteen centuries.
Fundamentalist mullahs, in contrast, reject the concepts of free will and individual choice, and thus democracy. In their view, it is incompatible with Islam. But spreading the word of God and Islam would be meaningless without freedom and respect for an individual’s free will and right to choose.
The PMOI believes the sole criterion for political legitimacy is the ballot-box. It is the electorate, expressing itself in a free and fair election that gives a party, group, coalition, or individual the mandate to govern.
Fundamentalist mullahs believe in the concept of velayat-e faqih, which invests law, power, and legitimacy to a Supreme Leader. Such a clerical system is by definition totalitarian because it cannot recognize freedom and the right of political activity for anyone other than those who support an Islamic state.
Iranian women are the major victims of the religious dictatorship and dogma of the mullahs. The clerical regime relegates women to second-class citizens. It denies them the right to leadership, the presidency, and judgeships.
Fundamentalist mullahs believe husbands should be able to divorce their wives anytime they so choose and, after divorce, the father should take custody of the child. They believe the father has the right to wed his daughter to anyone he chooses and, once she becomes an adult, she has no right to protest.
The PMOI supports gender equality in all aspects, from choosing a spouse and marriage to inheritance, testimony, custody, employment, and election to the highest positions in government. It is because of Ms. Rajavi’s advocacy that the issue of gender equality has become a main platform for the PMOI.
Mr. Rajavi discussed in 1980 the importance of freedom:
“Freedom is a divine blessing…Anyone trying to restrict human freedom has neither understood Islam nor mankind and the [anti-monarchist] revolution. Freedom is indispensable to the survival of mankind as human beings. Otherwise, human beings would be no different from animals and could not be held responsible for anything.”6
1) “Mujahidin’s Masud Rajavi: ‘We are the only real threat to Khomeini,” MERIP Reports, March-April 1982.”
3) Quran, Sura 7, Verse 157.
4) “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.
5) Quran, Sura 2, Verse 256.
6) Mohahed (PMOI Daily Newspaper), June 15, 1980. See “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohammad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, 2004.