The Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK): a nuisance or a threat to the regime in Iran?
The public health crisis caused by the spread of coronavirus in Iran, where over 75,000 victims had been counted by early July, has not stopped the Iranian authorities from continuing their campaign to suppress and demonize the opposition.
Is the People’s Mojahedin just a minor phenomenon to be dealt with in the margin of affairs of state, as certain lobbies seek to portray it in the West? Or does it represent a genuine threat to the survival of the dictatorship in Iran?
There is a recurrent refrain among a closed circle of researchers, lecturers, and interest groups who for years have been pounding out the message that the MEK has no presence in Iran, or at least is not a threat there. If that is so, why does it bother the Iranian regime and its apologists so much?
This type of allegation seeks above all to convey the idea that there is no viable alternative to the present regime, which hence has to be coped with. This paper aims to examine whether that idea is shared with equal certainty by the Iranian elite at the head of its repugnant theocracy.
A recent occurrence helped to measure the impact of matters involving the MEK in Iran. On 6 June, the famous Iranian actress and singer Marjan (whose real name was Shahla Safi-Zamir) died in a Los Angeles hospital at the age of 71. An activist who had spent several years in Khomeiny’s jails, she went into exile in 2006, like many of her compatriots, and joined the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Using her art to serve the cause of her country’s liberation, this supporter of the People’s Mojahedin would sing only at Resistance gatherings and produced dozens of songs with other resistance artists.
After her death, celebrities in Iran from the world of culture, cinema, music, and even football paid tribute to her, publicly or by getting in touch with her husband, himself a film-maker, and MEK sympathizer. The story became so big that the regime launched a campaign of intimidation to force them to retract.
According to AFP, “these messages were aggressively attacked by ultraconservatives, like the Raja News website, which published an article accusing celebrities of encouraging people ‘to admire hypocrites’, or monafeghin in Persian. Monafeghin is a term Iran uses to refer to the People’s Mojahedin of Iran.”
This story gives a tiny insight into the MEK’s reach in Iranian society, which goes much further than advocates of the Iranian regime would have us believe. So what has changed in Iran in recent times?
The shockwave of popular revolt
Let us go back in time for a moment. The Islamist authorities’ disastrous mismanagement of the crisis has reminded Iranians of the urgent need to do away with an iniquitous regime that has brought to the country to the brink of disaster. The noose is tightening around a shaky government struggling with an economy on its knees and an explosive social climate.
The popular revolts of December 2017 and November 2019 and the protests of January 2020, as well as the role of resistance units of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI / MEK Iran) in these major social movements, caused a shockwave in upper circles of the Iranian government.
How could a movement whose members had been massacred and demonized for 40 years and whose disappearance had been trumpeted on several occasions still wield influence on the streets of Iran?
Although last November’s rumblings were quelled amid bloodshed and the killing of over 1,500 demonstrators in a hundred or so towns and cities, the leaders of the Iranian regime fear that the fire smoldering beneath the widespread anger will flare up again. More widespread, more radical, and better organized at each new outburst, the next eruption could prove fatal and sweep away the regime after more than 40 years of Islamist dictatorship. The post-coronavirus world looks like being a nightmare for the mullahs.
Brute force can indeed keep dictators in power for a long time. However, the effective presence of an organized and mobilized resistance gives Supreme leader Ali Khamenei good cause to fear for the future of his regime.
If the MEK resistance movement worries the current government, it is because the mullahs are frightened to see the extent of their persistent opponents’ influence on Iranian society. This is especially true among disenchanted young people, the first victims of the economic crisis, who, after the manifest failure of attempts at “pseudo-reform”, are looking for new ways out of the current morass.
Although the MEK’s structures have been located in Albania since the movement left Iraq, where its militants were persecuted by extremist militias, puppets of the Iranian IRGC (the regime’s parallel army), the MEK is not an opposition in exile, as some would argue.
Founded in 1965 by young, progressive Muslim intellectuals and supporters of Mossadegh, the democratic prime minister toppled by a CIA coup in 1953, the movement has never ceased to exist and to stir up hope among its many sympathizers in Iran. Its historical roots, the sacrifices made in fighting two ferocious dictatorships, and the courageous perseverance of its members during 14 years under siege in Iraq have generated boundless reserves of sympathy among Iranians, particularly among the youth in Iran.
The MEK’s resistance units are gaining ground
Despite the many arrests, the MEK’s Resistance Units are gaining ground in most Iranian provinces. Iranians of all ages have formed themselves into small militant groups, carrying out clandestine activities ranging from writing graffitied on walls with anti-government and pro-Resistance slogans to the destruction of symbols of the regime suppression, such as propaganda posters, torching signs and entrances of centers run by the Bassij militia or Revolutionary Guards, and extremist religious seminaries which recruit and train terrorists and extremists.
Holding out against the repressive machinery of a State that tortures its opponents is no easy feat. The Resistance Units aim to dispel the climate of terror by showing the mullahs’ omnipotence to be a myth and that tyranny can be defied. At the same time, confronting the regime through acts of resistance helps the militants to organize and to prepare for the uprising that will overthrow the dictatorship.
A worried government has embarked on a sweeping wave of arrests, especially among MEK sympathizers and their families, accused of collaborating with the “Resistance Units” and “People’s Councils”. In May, public opinion was roused by the disappearance of two elite students from Sharif University, resulting in demonstrations at several universities by students demanding news of their friends. The judicial authorities were forced to acknowledge the arrest of Amir Hossein Moradi and Ali Younessi, gold medal winners at the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics held in China in 2017 and 2018. On 18 May 2020, Amnesty International warned that the students were at risk of torture or other ill-treatment in Iran’s notoriously brutal jails.
Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, the spokesman for the Iranian judiciary, said that the students had links with the MEK and were “attempting to carry out sabotage operations […] Amid the coronavirus, this was essentially a conspiracy by the enemies; they wanted to wreak havoc in the country, which was fortunately thwarted by the vigilance of intelligence ministry agents.”
Among the many arrested in 2020, an NCRI statement announced the recent arrest of 18 more people, including six young women, accused of collaborating with the MEK. It disclosed their identities and warned that a significant number of prisoners had died under torture since the uprising of December 2017-January 2018. The regime maintained silence and engaged in a cover-up about their fate; when compelled to respond, it claimed they had committed suicide.
Arrests have taken place in recent weeks in Teheran, Mashhad, Neyshabur, Kermanshah, Sabzevar, Arak, Kashan, Mahshahr, Bushehr, Marvdasht, Amol, Ahvaz, Andimeshk, Rasht, Behbahan, Isfahan, Gorgan, Karaj, Tabriz, and Shiraz. According to those who survived the round-ups, the interrogators sought information about the activities of the MEK and Resistance Units, the relationship between the detainees and the MEK, and, above all, why young people were so attracted to the MEK.
On 19 April 2019, the Iranian Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi announced the arrest of “116 teams related to the MEK”. The minister of the Iranian Gestapo described his ministry’s activities as an “intelligence epic” carried out “in light of Khamenei’s guidelines”. On 24 April 2019, the Ministry’s Director General in Eastern Azerbaijan province stated that the MEK had considerably extended its scope: “In 2018, the MEK’s activities in the province became more widespread, and their agenda for 2019 includes missions such as gathering information. Last year, the monafeghin [MEK] expanded their activities by exploiting the economic and social conditions; 60 elements associated with MEK communication hubs were arrested and 50 more were cautioned.”
Khamenei warns of the MEK’s influence
The mullahs’ Supreme Guide, Ali Khamenei, personally spoke out to warn against any negligence concerning the MEK’s activities and the inroads made by its Resistance Units among young Iranians.
In a speech on 8 January, Khamenei issued a warning about the role of the MEK and its Resistance Units in the November uprising, sparked by an increase in the price of petrol. Referring to the presence of MEK members in Albania and the visit to their Ashraf 3 settlement by General James L. Jones, former National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama and Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, he said: “A few days before [the uprising], an American agent and a few mercenaries and treasonous Iranians gathered together in a small but malicious and evil European country to plot against the Islamic Republic, and their plans were implemented a few days later on the gasoline issue. As soon as the people [protesters] entered the arena, enemy agents started to demolish, burn, … and start a war. They were updating the plot they had already hatched. They continue to do such things and do them as much as they can.”
On 17 May 2020, at a meeting with “students” from the Bassij militia, Khamenei said: “Places of gathering for young people, including universities, have been the target of two major evils: passivity and deviation. In the early days of the Revolution, we had some young people who were Muslims, who believed in Islam, but they were attracted to the MEK and joined their path […]”. He added, “Expand the revolutionary front! Recruit! Of course, I do not mean the MEK, the non-believers. I do not recommend that we appease those who do not accept the foundations of the revolution, who cast doubt on its foundations, promote the enemy, and put us on the wrong path. Not at all. You must deal with them explicitly and strongly […] They, the enemy, also work on our youth and try to exploit them and are planning for this.”
The following day, the state-run Erja News website ran a report commenting on Khamenei’s speech: “For two years, we have seen that the MEK has reactivated their sleeper cells one after another, calling them Resistance Units. They assign sabotage operations to them through a centralized command. Even after the suppression of the November uprising, the Mojahedin leader [Massoud Rajavi] issues a message that ‘the triumphant strategy of the Liberation Army was proven in Resistance Units, districts and cities’ […] It is not without reason that His Eminence [Khamenei] has repeatedly warned about the danger of an insidious enemy in the past two years, has called on Basijis to be ready in every city and district and has ordered the system in its entirety to prepare itself to face down the enemy which seeks its overthrow.”
The clerical regime’s often embarrassed or even hysterical reactions to the MEK’s activities are the best tangible evidence of the extent of MEK’s support. During the popular uprising of December 2017-January 2018 and again in November 2019, the highest authorities, from Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Rouhani to the Secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security and Pasdaran leaders, all publicly acknowledged the MEK’s predominant role in organizing and leading the demonstrations. In doing so, they went against their official policy of ignoring the movement or minimizing its role. In a rare move that broke with diplomatic convention, on January 2, 2018, Hassan Rouhani, the mullahs’ president, protested against the MEK’s activities in a telephone call with the French president, calling on him to take action against the movement in France.
The Revolutionary Guards’ video report
Departing from their long-standing policy of ignoring the MEK, the Revolutionary Guards also found it necessary to issue a warning against the activities of Resistance Units and “planned sedition in the country”. On August 5, 2018, the Pasdaran-run news agency Fars issued an “explanatory” video on the subject, shown on government TV channels. Excerpts:
“The small band of monafeghin expelled from Ashraf a few years ago has changed its strategy and is now trying to revive the methods of the 1980s. With the support of Maryam Rajavi and by reactivating sleeper cells, Resistance Units have started their sabotage actions in the country […] They have chosen cyberspace as the best means of communication. Using this medium, they have started the planned sedition [uprising] in the country. In the sedition of December 2017, the band identified potential opportunities in society and formally ordered the start of operations with the help of Resistance Units.”
On January 26, 2018, Mullah Ahmad Khatami, Vice-President of the Assembly of Experts and a leader of Friday prayers in Teheran, also warned against Resistance Units and issued a call to denounce them: “Do not think that efforts to overturn the system are over. No! Our enemies will never stop thinking about it. We must be on our guard […] The enemy makes malicious use of new media, like Telegram Messenger, Instagram, and other similar tools […] You foiled the PMOI’s sedition in 1996, 2009 and January 2016. You should foil the next seditions and you can do that […] Wherever you see the conspiracy, quickly notify the authorities as your duty.” These calls for denunciation are an admission of weakness.
“The one and only enemy of the holy Islamic Republic”
On 24 April 2020, the Iranian news agencies Nama News and Nasim News reproduced an article published on the official Nasim-e Kermanshah website. The uncommonly forthright piece sheds a harsh light on what the regime’s leaders think about the MEK. Asserting that supporters of the monarchy are of no consequence to the regime, the author regrets that the leadership and the official media should have opted for a new policy whereby “supporters of the monarchy” are bracketed with the MEK, the aim being to “muddy the waters” and “keep the spotlight off the MEK”.
“The distraction tactic is costly negligence” runs the title of the article published in the government newspaper’s 24 April 2020 edition. Excerpts:
“The Monafeghin Organization is the subject of my expertise and research”, explains the author, Meysam Parsa (monafeghin, meaning hypocrite, is a pejorative term used by the regime to denigrate the MEK). “Every day I search the keywords ‘MEK’, ‘PMOI’ ‘Monafeghin’.
“As I was enjoying the view of the road, I reminded myself that I should not waste time, so I looked at the search results. One of the state-run news agencies had written: ‘The plot by the MEK and the monarchists…’ Seeing it, the same question came to mind: How far are we going to continue in this negligence?
“It was the same question I had heard from Haji, one of the Friday prayer leaders and a representative of the Supreme Guide. We were discussing the MEK and the destructive process of those sworn enemies of the Islamic Republic. It was in the middle of the 2018 sedition [uprising] and it was clear to all of us that the MEK was both leading and expediting [the uprising].
“[…] Haji explained that there is a huge mistake in our media. The mistake is to do not with ‘knowing the enemy’ but ‘dealing with the enemy’. Anyone who has been involved in the state affairs and worked hard to preserve the legacy of Imam Khomeini is well aware that the one and only enemy of the holy Islamic Republic is the MEK, period. […]
“Have you forgotten that the Supreme leader himself, speaking about the 2018 riots, said on January 9, 2018, ‘A triangle was active during these incidents. It does not date from today. It was organized, and the pawn of this sedition was the MEK. They had been getting ready and organizing for months […]’? Yes, the enemy is serious and does not use the distraction tactic in dealing with us. We must wake up, pull back the curtains, and stop the damaging distraction tactic. It is by bravely pointing the arrow at the real enemy and giving hope to the Islamic system’s supporters that we will be able to avert the threat of the monafeghin.”
Films and books used to spread disinformation
In addition to its traditional outlets on state radio and television and other media, the Iranian regime has also recruited the film industry in recent years, commissioning an estimated 184 films and TV series that targets the MEK. In May 2020, the number of books, novels and essays relating to the MEK and its “crimes against the holy Islamic Republic” amounted to 526, to say nothing of the street exhibitions and advertising hoardings or the countless articles published in the press every week, or even every day, that seek to turn young Iranians away from Resistance Units.
Anti-MEK books recently published in Iran and promoted by the regime include titles such as Mersad (the pseudo-name given by the regime to a MEK and NLA operation in 1988), The Golden Leaf of the West, Anthropology of the Mojahedin Organization, The People’s Mojahedin Unvarnished, Memoirs of Prison under the Shah, Documents and Secrets of Operation Mersad, Time Regained and Nothing but Strategy.
The Nejat Society, a so-called NGO set up to harass the families of MEK members, has branches in all the Iranian provinces. In the space of a year, this offshoot of MOIS, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, has published some 2,189 articles and pieces critical of the MEK in the local and national press. Each branch has to produce one or two articles or papers in return for a sum of money. MOIS-sponsored agents and websites in Europe and the United States and Arab countries operate along the same lines. They are paid a salary in return for what they publish each week, in their newspapers and magazines or on their websites, to smear the MEK.
Recent TV productions about the MEK have names like In the Name of the People (a 28-part documentary), You Will Stay, Broken Chestnut Branches, The Mole, Vengeance, End of the Road, The Enemy, The Terror Organization, The Organization, Clearing the Fog, The Failed Plan, The Fortieth Phase, What Happened, Cutout, Father Taleghani, Terrorist, Tell-Tale Tombs, The Plot and the Hypocrites, The Defector, Martyrs of Terrorism, The Guide’s Tale, etc.
Propaganda films against the MEK were the main theme of the 2018 Islamic Film Festival.
The mullahs’ Supreme leader pays close attention to the regime’s anti-MEK propaganda. After the 2018 revolts in Iran, Ali Khamenei said at a meeting with state radio and TV producers on January 11, 2018, “We are fighting a cultural war. Our enemies have sophisticated methods and deep pockets. Documentaries like these can enlighten minds.”
Mohammad-Hossein Rouzitalab is the producer of several anti-MEK TV shows and documentaries commissioned by MOIS. He explained the rationale behind his work in an interview on state TV’s Channel 4 on July 28, 2019, “The biggest anti-revolutionary group which is fighting the Islamic Republic and has struck heavy blows against the system and the people and caused strife in our country is the monafeghin [hypocrites, a pejorative term used by the regime to refer to the MEK] […] Looking at what the Monafeghin Organization has done in recent years, we can see that it has struck many of the blows against the system […] So it is very important to explain the organization’s history and its attitude in this clash.”
Rouzitalab told the Mehr news agency in February 2019: “The Islamic Revolution Document Center (IRDC) has published over 39 books which look at this issue from different perspectives. For example, it has published testimony from defectors from the organization […] We have produced many documentaries, films, and books about the Monafeghin Organization over the last five years, with the IDRC being responsible for all or some of the research. We have to admit that the MEK is still an open case that concerns a large part of our security apparatus. That is why we have to look at the issue with the help and support of the body concerned [the Intelligence Ministry, MOIS] […] Our next duty is to show our programs about the MEK in schools and universities.”
Nothing but Strategy: a book that speaks volumes
The Iranian media may publish certain truths about the MEK despite strict scrutiny. It is interesting to find that between the lines of a book called Nothing but Strategy, the author inadvertently reveals truths that speak volumes about the MEK’s impact on the Iranian political scene.
Published in spring 2019, the book takes the form of an interview with a senior intelligence official. According to the introduction, “Nasser Razavi used to be a senior official in the intelligence and security agencies of key institutions, notably the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic. He has worked in the department assigned to the elteghat [another pejorative name for the MEK], which he has been fighting for over 30 years.”
The author adds that the interview was conducted three years earlier and that “the publisher has suppressed certain parts” for political reasons. The following are excerpts from the interview with this sworn enemy of the People’s Mojahedin Organization.
“Mojahed [the MEK newspaper] would sell 500,000 copies. No other publication had a circulation like it. The MEK had 500,000 militants who all bought the newspaper. On our side, we had 2 million who did not buy even 50,000 copies. Not even 10,000 [of our militants] bought our newspapers.
“You cannot imagine the extent of their influence and impact. Do you know how many undercover agents the MEK had in-state radio and television? They had 600 sympathizers within the organization and 30 to 40 people who were regarded not just as sympathizers but as undercover agents. There were just as many in the Ministry of Industry, in the army and other state agencies and bodies.
“I can tell you that I never saw an undercover agent [of the MEK] who would have worked for money. Money has no value in their system.
“The MEK corps was huge, it had 30,000 armed forces.
“When the organization acts, it does so with a strategic or tactical purpose. If there is neither, it will not act. The MEK has never carried out a revenge operation. Either its operations had a tactical purpose or they were intended to turn a situation to its strategic advantage.
“Anyone who says that the MEK advances with a personality cult around this or that figure has understood nothing about the organization. It is not for the sake of a person that the MEK went to Iraq or France. If the MEK went to Iraq, it was to carry on a ‘new war’ well-grounded in theory.
“The best thing we did was to use defectors, i.e. to use the MEK’s own potential against itself.
“The MEK has a distinguishing feature. It is different from aristocrats who send soldiers to fight but themselves remain at the rear. It is made up of people with ideological convictions, it is a force that advances and will risk water and fire to ensure that those in the rear will follow.
“In previous years we spent very little time on the question of infiltration. It is a deficiency of our security apparatus, which cannot infiltrate the MEK’s inner circles.
“Those of us who have been around for a while know exactly why Montazeri [Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, Khomeini’s intended but discarded successor] split [from the regime]. His opinions had something to do with it, I do not doubt that, but it was also due to the MEK’s activities […]
“We ended up accepting a ceasefire in the war. Perhaps we would have done so in any case, but the MEK was one of the catalysts which influenced our decision and expedited it. The MEK shattered our aura on the front.”
He also emphasizes the regime’s real strategy against the MEK in previous years, “In 1991, we completely overhauled our methods and our solutions for combating the hypocrites [MEK] […] We came to the conclusion that we could never dismantle the MEK by carrying out military operations against them […] The harder we hit them, the more cohesive they become. They recruit more widely and the scope of their activities increases […] So we need to move in the direction of psychological operations which must be based essentially on defectors […] We have done a great deal of work on the war of nerves […] but we cannot say any more on the subject.”
For lobbies, scorn for the MEK is the flip side of admiration for the Pasdaran
Dispensing with any pretense of impartiality on the subject of a movement which has lost tens of thousands of members and sympathizers, often tortured to death in regime’s jails, the inveterate advocates of the mullahs’ regime seek to deceive public opinion and political leaders by maintaining that the resistance movement lacks popular support in Iran, where they claim it is “hated” by the people.
These lobbies include what the mullahs like to call the “network of friends” of the Islamic Republic, often in the service of Western special-interest groups and financial interests, for whom human rights and ethics are a dead letter. They conceal neither their friendship for the regime nor their scorn for the MEK and the NCRI. They defend their poor choice of the company by arguing that they seek to strengthen the so-called “moderate” faction against the radicals in Iran, despite knowing full well that no fundamental reform is possible in a religious dictatorship based on the absolute rule of an all-powerful Supreme Guide. The policy of appeasement has served merely to prolong the malevolent and blood-soaked existence of an illegitimate government.
Since the successful transfer of members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq to Albania in 2014, disinformation and terrorism have been the only means of leverage against the movement available to the regime and its foreign lobbies. They have stepped up their use of these resources since the movement established the Ashraf 3 settlement in Albania, where it has been able to restructure and regroup, much to the annoyance of the dictators in Iran. By spending large amounts of money on repeating the lie, the mullahs seek to convince their contacts in the West that the MEK and the NCRI are not a viable alternative, that they are worse than the regime, which should, therefore, be handled gently.
The demonization of the MEK is the flip side of the policy of appeasing the IRGC, the armed wing of the Supreme Leader, used to suppress dissent inside the country and export terrorism and fundamentalism beyond it.
At a round table on the Middle East organized by the French National Assembly’s Defence Committee on 22 January 2020, Pierre Razoux (a researcher at IRSEM) defended “constructive dialogue” with the Iranian regime. After making disparaging remarks about the democratic opposition, calling the People’s Mojahedin a “terrorist organization responsible for the death of hundreds of officials and thousands of Iranians”, he told French MPs “if you go to Iran, including in bobo, intellectual and reformist circles, the movement is shunned […] I don’t think it would be a good idea at all to support them.” Pierre Razoux then hit a new low in expressing his partiality for the IRGC, “The paradox is that those people, including the young, including reformists who criticize the role of the clergy, stand behind the IRGC, the Revolutionary Guards, saying ‘fortunately we have them to guarantee the security, not of the regime but the country. Look at what is happening elsewhere, the United States, and all the people who wish us harm. If we didn’t have the Revolutionary Guards, we would already be on our knees and under the domination of the Chinese, the Russians, and the Americans.’ That’s what you have to understand in this dilemma.”
It is distressing to see that the lobbies’ remarks owe nothing whatsoever to scientific or expert opinion. It is common knowledge that an opinion poll on political movements is impossible in Iran, tightly locked down by the mullahs and their IRGC. The only way to assess the comparative popularity of this movement or that would be through universal suffrage in a country where freedom of expression was guaranteed. For some “researchers” who have easy access to Teheran, where French academics are still being held hostage, it is helpful to voice opinions that please the regime in place.
To find out the real extent of the MEK’s popularity, we will have to wait for the day when Iranians will be able to express themselves freely at the ballot box. Until then, an opinion poll worthy of the name remains impossible in a religious dictatorship.
The best practical indicator of the MEK’s influence in Iranian society is to be found in the extent of its support and the clerical regime’s often embarrassed or even hysterical reactions to its activities in social movements in Iran. It is to be found in the violence against the movement’s sympathizers and the waves of arrests among young militants and students who have embraced the cause of toppling the regime. It is also to be found in the ranks of the disadvantaged who took to the streets in vast numbers during the last uprising in November 2019, arousing anger in the highest circles of government, from Supreme leader Khamenei to President Rouhani.
The eloquent case of the journalist from Le Point
Among the victims of the Iranian regime’s propaganda and blackmail, machines are those, especially journalists, who yield to the demands of the Iranian authorities to obtain permission to enter the country. At the price of selling their souls and breaking ethical rules, several journalists have fallen into the regime’s trap for the sake of a visa, an interview, or permission to cover a sensitive election.
Several accounts have been published on the subject. The most recent, by a journalist from the French magazine Le Point, is particularly eloquent. The Iranian-born French journalist Armin Arefi explains in his book, Un Printemps en Iran [Spring in Tehran], how his Iranian contact, who had helped him return to Iran after a nine-year ban, put him in touch with members of the Nejat Society, an offshoot of MOIS. The MOIS agent’s unambiguous aim was to convince the “Iran expert” to write an article smearing the MEK’s image in France, where the movement has its European headquarters.
In a video interview with the website L’Opinion on February 5, 2019, Arefi recounts his experience in Iran, “Any journalist who wants to go to the Islamic Republic has to work with a semi-official agency which issues you with a press pass and takes a daily amount of money off you to set you up with an official interpreter, whose job is not only to translate all the conversations you have with your contacts in Iran but also to report everything you get up to in the field. These agencies are often headed by people with a lot of power. One of them is Mr. Nejati, who I mention in my book, and he enabled me to return to the Islamic Republic.
“But when I get to his office, after being barred from the Islamic Republic for nine years, he pressurizes me and lets me know that he will be keeping an eye on me. So I go to Iran for my magazine, Le Point, but I know that behind me there is someone who will look at everything I write and everything I do while I am there […] That person arranges a meeting with officials, especially from Iranian NGOs, who introduced me to former members of the People’s Mojahedin […], which is the only – one of the only – federated organizations in Iran to oppose the Islamic regime […] That is when Mr. Nejati plays that card to put pressure on me: ‘where is your article on the People’s Mojahedin? I told you it would be good, it would help your case, to write something about them’ […] And so it becomes a kind of blackmail on the People’s Mojahedin (MEK).”
Armin Arefi finally paid back his Iranian contacts. In an article published in Le Point on 23 April 2020, the journalist used a Donald Trump tweet as a pretext to smear the movement numbered “among the most controversial”. With the support of “researchers” known for their animosity towards the MEK, such as Pierre Razoux, Vincent Eiffling, and Ali Vaez, he rehashed the tired old refrain against the MEK, telling readers that the movement is “extremely unpopular in Iran”, that “former members who have defected sometimes say that it operates like a cult”, and above all that “nobody in Iran ever told me they wanted the Mujahedin-e Khalq back in the country, where they are seen as traitors and fanatics.”
In a clarification for the Le Point website, an NCRI spokesperson raised doubts about the journalist’s motives.
“Is his hysterical hostility against the MEK linked to the solicitation by the mullahs’ regime, which he admitted in February 2019? Why these slanders made rotten by the radiance of truth? If the movement is nothing but an isolated terrorist cult with no support in Iran, how come that in recent years, at a time when the mullahs’ regime is facing a serious existential crisis bordering on overthrow or collapse, the official media and leaders at all levels have shown themselves so sensitive to the MEK’s presence in society and its impact, especially on Iranian youth? What is the reason for the dozens of expensively made films and TV series about the MEK, financed by the Ministry of Intelligence and IRGC production companies and regularly shown on TV?
“Are there any explanations other than this: on the current political scene in Iran, as far as the prospects for the future are concerned, a regime at bay and aware of the explosive potential of an indignant, unhappy and angry population, can see no other serious adversary than the MEK resistance movement which, for 40 years and despite all attempts to denigrate it, has never renounced its primary goal: a free and democratic Iran.”
This response to the article in Le Point initially appeared on the magazine’s website but, curiously, was recently taken down, a method which casts doubt on journalistic integrity.
Jean Ziegler, a Swiss sociologist and well-known expert at UN headquarters in Geneva, said on August 11, 2011, about members of the Iranian resistance then based at Ashraf 1 in Iraq, who had just suffered two massacres by Iraqi militia and Iranian IRGC, “How can this Ashraf camp and its 3,400 people cause such murderous hysteria on the part of the mullahs? The answer is […] that if there is a place, a focal point, however small in numbers, population or territory, which stands for the values of democracy, of liberty, of international solidarity, it is intolerable for any tyranny because that place constantly destroys the legitimacy of the tyrannical regime. The mullahs have fully understood the danger that Ashraf represents.”
After the MEK was taken off blacklists in Europe and the United States, Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), shed a poignant light on the “long and painful history of the demonization of the defenders of liberty and resistance movements.” At the grand gathering of the Iranian resistance at Villepinte in June 2012, she said:
“In all these years, the mullahs ruling Iran or their accomplices said and wrote repeatedly that members of this Resistance themselves use torture and murder. They alleged that this is a cult suffering from a personality cult and that it lacks popular support inside Iran. They alleged that it murdered the Kurds and massacred the Shiites in Iraq. They alleged that it had hidden chemical weapons in Camp Ashraf and that 70% of Ashraf residents had been kept there against their will. All these slanders emanated from the label [terrorist] and served to preserve the mullahs’ regime.
“It was only the suffering and perseverance of the resistance movement which broke through this colonial and reactionary siege and onslaught against the Iranian people’s resistance movement. After the unprecedented rulings of the English and EU courts last year, the French judiciary issued a shining judgment, acknowledging the legitimacy of the Iranian people’s righteous resistance against religious fascism. This year, the US judiciary also testified to a historic injustice perpetrated against the Iranian Resistance.
“Are you aware of how exceptional that is in the long and painful history of the demonization of freedom-seekers and resistance movements, from Spartacus to Jesus Christ, from the heroes of the anti-fascist resistance here in France to the combatants for the freedom of Iran? It is the first time that a movement, in its own time, through sacrifice and by raising awareness, and of course abiding by international law, has successfully gone before the courts in Europe and the United States and freed itself from the burden and heavy chains of these lies. Yes, we succeeded in putting an end to the oppressive siege against the resistance movement. And we succeeded in elevating the standards of justice in today’s world.
“We succeeded in breaking the cycle of slander and ruse. We succeeded in crafting a new plan and opening a new chapter. This is a plan based on transparency, truth, and justice, based on respect for mankind’s achievements and virtues, based on the return of international institutions to defending human rights, based on restoring the rights of peoples and reviving the value of resistance and sacrifice. Yes, the strength of humanity and justice has been shown and a page of history has been turned. Dictators are falling one after another and the policies which protected them must also change. We can and will bring about that change. That is the meaning of a change of era and an era of change.”
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