MEK, Iran’s History
MEK Iran Founding
The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI / MEK) was founded by Mohammad Hanifnejad, Said Mohsen, and Ali-Ashgar Badizadgan on September 6, 1965. MEK’S founders were all engineers who were former members of the Freedom Movement (also known as the Liberation Movement), created in May 1961 by Mehdi Bazargan.1
The Freedom Movement advocated for the “democratic principles enshrined in the fundamental laws of 1905-09 [Iranian] Constitution.” From its birth in 1961 until 1963, the Freedom Movement held meetings and was allowed to publish a newsletter that supported “political freedom and the separations of power.”
On June 5, 1963, large demonstrations took place in Iran to protest the arrest of Ruhollah Khomeini, who had delivered a scathing speech indicting the monarchy. The Shah’s police responded with “massive firepower, in what has become known as the Khordad Uprising. Because of its support for the demonstrations, the Liberation Movement was banned. Other pro-democratic organizations were also banned. Bazargan was sentenced to ten years in prison.
The three young engineers realized that duplicating the actions of the Freedom Movement would lead to the same calamitous conclusion, so two years later they came together to develop a new blueprint for democracy and freedom to Iran.
The three engineers formed a discussion group with their trusted friends to develop a new strategy. Most of these group members were professionals living in Tehran, who met twice a week to discuss religion, history, philosophy, and evolutionary theory.
These early meetings of the MEK culminated in their interpretation of a true Islam: an inherently tolerant and democratic faith, which is fully compatible with the values of modern-day society. The MEK spent six years formulating its progressive view of Islam and developing a strategy to replace Iran’s dictatorial monarchy with a democratic government.
Iran’s fundamentalist mullahs believe that the interpretation of Islam is their exclusive domain. The MEK rejects this narrow view, along with the clerics’ reactionary vision of Islam. The comprehensive interpretation of Islam, as described by the MEK, proved to be more appealing, persuasive, and successful than any of the past attempts.
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 Iran Founders
The MEK was penetrated by SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police before it could become operational. SAVAK discovered a safe house and was able to identify several members, who were interrogated and tortured. This led SAVAK to additional members who were also arrested.
By September 1971, SAVAK had captured and imprisoned about 150 MEK members, which included 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, among other offenses.
The trials of MEK members were initially open to the media. The MEK was unknown at this time, but the resistance organization rapidly became a household name, which was lauded for its efforts to bring democracy and freedom to Iran. Media coverage was terminated once members publicly disclosed that they were tortured while in custody of SAVAK.
The regime executed or imprisoned all of the MEK’s leadership, including its founders and members of the Central Committee, but one, Massoud Rajavi. He received a death penalty like others, but Massoud Rajavi’s brother, Dr. Kazem Rajavi, organized an international campaign from his home in Geneva to commute Massoud’s death sentence to life imprisonment. Top French officials intervened as well, and Rajavi’s sentence was commuted.
The MEK struggled without a leadership structure, and the remaining organization was taken over by pro-communists. These usurpers took the organization’s name and remaining assets. Low-level MEK members were offered the choice of either supporting the new leadership and ideology or being expelled. Some of these members were murdered.
MEK Role in 1979 Revolution in Iran
Massoud Rajavi was freed from prison after serving seven years of his sentence. His release occurred on January 20, 1979, four days after the Shah fled Iran. Mr. Rajavi was among the last group of 162 political prisoners to be released.
Four days after leaving prison, Mr. Rajavi gave a speech at Tehran University where he discussed the MEK’s history, his reverence for freedom, and bringing democracy to Iran. His speech was attended by thousands of people. This event marked the new beginning of the Mojahedin National Movement.
U.S. President Jimmy Carter set the ’79 Revolution into motion years earlier by adopting a foreign policy that emphasized human rights. The Shah, worried that his poor human rights record would damage relations with the U.S., took steps to downgrade incidences of terror. He ended the torture and execution of his opponents, among other measures. For the first time in 25 years, Iranians could demonstrate in public without being arrested, tortured, and executed.
A broad range of political organizations, including the MEK, came together with the goal of overthrowing the Shah. The MEK viewed the ousting of the Shah as an extension of the 1906 Constitutional Revolution and the Mossadeq national movement in 1950, which had the objective of bringing freedom to Iran.
The mullahs had a different goal. The clerical establishment supported the Shah during the 1906 Revolution and in the Mossadeq national movement. The mullahs had their reservations on plans for modernizing Iran, including their objection to the rights of vote for women, but they remained loyal until just before the revolution.
The Iranian people had longed for freedom for many years. They saw the results of Carter’s human rights policy as an opportunity to protest 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.
Khomeini misled the Iranian public by allowing them to believe they could replace the Shah’s monarchy with a democratic government. The fundamentalist mullahs’ belief that “all means are justified in the service of God” included lying to Iranians about the structure of the new government. The mullahs used the pretext of Islam to pursue their own interests instead of the desires of the public. This self-interest by the mullahs was a betrayal of Islam and the people’s sentiment.
Khomeini regularly utilized the strategy of “khod’ eh,” which means tricking one’s enemy so they misjudge events. This helped him to minimize opposition by students, intellectuals, minorities, Iran’s middle class, and others.
One example of this is when Khomeini falsely assured women that they would have equal rights. He also stated that the new government would support a free press, which was untrue.
Khomeini also used the strategy of “tanfih” to deceive the public. Tanfih means to mask one’s true beliefs when faced with a hostile environment. Khomeini decreased public attacks against the U.S. to lull Americans into a false sense of complacency. He endorsed Mehdi Bazargan, a long time pro-democracy activist, when he formed a provincial government, knowing that he would serve for a very limited term.
Khomeini used generalities when he spoke of a new government, and he refused to give details about programs or pledges. He lied when asked about the role of clerics in government, saying that the “clergymen, like other sectors of society, would have representatives.”1
Khomeini’s deceptive strategies and lies served their purpose. The public mistakenly viewed Khomeini as an elder statesman who opposed the Shah’s oppressive monarchy. The public believed they would be allowed to choose a new government after the Shah was deposed.
The Shah was diagnosed with cancer in his final months of rule and had to undergo chemotherapy. This diminished his ability to control events and hold on to power. Finally, on January 16, 1979, the Shah departed Iran never to come back.
Khomeini returned from exile to Tehran two weeks later. He found that the mullahs were well organized and had largely escaped SAVAK’s wrath. According to Mr. Rajavi, “[T]he Shah did not destroy the religious institutions. He compromised with them, and they with him.”2 In contrast, many of the leaders who supported democracy and freedom were leaving them unable to effectively fill the vacuum left by the Shah’s absence.
According to Mr. Rajavi, Khomeini almost immediately “began to monopolize power and concentrated everything in the hands of the clerics around him.” 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 Mohaddessin, Mohammad. (2004). Enemies of the Ayatollahs. London: Zed Books.
2 Mujahidin’s Masud Rajavi: “We are the only real threat to Khomeini”. MERIP Reports. March-April 1982.
3 Mohaddessin, Mohammad. (2004). Enemies of the Ayatollahs. London: Zed Books.
Renewal & Hope
After Khomeini returned to Iran, he sent his son, Ahmad, to meet with Massoud Rajavi. Ahmad offered Mr. Rajavi a proposal, on behalf of Khomeini: “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 that the MEK supported the establishment of a democratic government. Mr. Rajavi added that he would pledge the full support of the Mojahedin if the Ayatollah followed this path.
Mr. Rajavi announced the MEK’s political platform for a new Iranian government in a speech at Tehran University on February 23, 1980. In his speech, Mr. Rajavi established the MEK 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 MEK made it a prime candidate to challenge the mullahs’ power in the country. The MEK’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
Just weeks after the Shah’s overthrow, the mullahs began a secret campaign of low-level violence against the MEK, using Hezbollah gangs. These “club-wielders” attacked MEK offices, rallies, and supporters.
As the MEK grew in popularity, the Hezbollah thugs increased the brutality and frequency of their assaults. The MEK refused to engage in violence in response, choosing instead to focus its attention on a peaceful struggle for democracy and freedom in Iran. The MEK’s strategy was to avoid a full-scale confrontation with the regime for as long as possible.
During this period, “The MEK 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
One year after the revolution, in January 1980, Iran organized its first presidential election. Since Mr. Rajavi’s release from prison, the MEK had made great strides in rebuilding the organization. It now had branches and offices in more than 250 cities. Its newspaper, The Mojahed, had the largest daily circulation in the country of its newspaper, reaching nearly 600,000 people.5
Mr. Rajavi announced his candidacy for president, receiving widespread support from a diverse array of Iranians, including other parties, ethnic and religious minorities (Kurds, Sunnis, Christians, Jews, etc), students, young people, secular groups, and women.6
Khomeini, fearing Mr. Rajavi might win the election, issued a fatwa a week before the presidential election, vetoing Mr. Rajavi’s candidacy. banned his participation on the basis that he had not voted for the new constitution that created an authoritarian theocracy.7
Forced to withdraw from the race, Mr. Rajavi vowed that the MEK would continue to pursue its political goals within the constraints of the constitution and new legal system.
The mullahs applied increasing pressure on the MEK, prohibiting Mojahedin representatives from appearing on university campuses. In dozens of towns, Hezbollah club-wielders “attacked and looted Mojahedin headquarters, student societies, and meetings.”8 “In February 1980, 60,000 copies of The Mojahed were seized and burned.”9
An estimated 700 MEK supporters were wounded by Hezbollah in an attack on the MEK headquarters at Qaemshahr, and another 400 were assaulted in Mashad.10
Mullahs traveled from town to town spreading vicious lies about the MEK. Cleric Hojjat ol-Eslam Khaz’ali, for example, told a congregation in Mashad, “Even if they [MEK] 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
After being refused the opportunity to run for president, Mr. Rajavi submitted his candidacy for a seat in the Majlis, Iran’s parliament. The mullahs rigged the vote tally in the first round in order to prevent Mr. Rajavi and other MEK candidates from winning a seat.
The MEK denounced the election and documented widespread “rigging, fraud, and violence.” Ballots for Mr. Rajavi were diverted to Islamic Republican Party (IRP) candidates. People without proper identification were allowed to vote and Islamic militants forged the ballots of other voters. Lists of IRP candidates were distributed at some polling stations, violating election law.12
Khomeini told Iranian citizens that anyone who failed to support candidates who favored an Islamic government would be considered a sinner.13 He also manipulated the election by only promoting IRP candidates prior to the campaign and then prohibiting all electronic media coverage during the campaign. This lack of exposure disadvantaged opposition candidates.14
The people staged demonstrations in protest of unfair and illegal election tampering. The government bowed under pressure to set up a commission to investigate the vote rigging and fraud, but nothing resulted from this action.
Mohaddessin, Mohammad. (2004). Enemies of the Ayatollahs. London: Zed Books.
4 Bakhash, Shaul. (1984). The Reign of the Ayatollahs. New York: Basic Books. New York, 1984.
5 Mohaddessin, Mohammad. (2004). Enemies of the Ayatollahs. London: Zed Books.
6 Amendment for Sunni Moslems, Khomeini (sec) Makes Concession to. Ethnic Regions. Reuters, The Globe and Mail. January 21, 1980.
7 Mohaddessin, Mohammad. (2004). Enemies of the Ayatollahs. London: Zed Books.
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.
On June 12, 1980, the MEK organized a rally at Amjadiyeh Stadium in Tehran to protest the escalation of the mullahs’ tyranny. Days earlier Khomeini had shut down all universities under the guise of starting a cultural revolution. His actual intention was to suppress the students.
The demonstration was attended by over 200,000 people. Mr. Rajavi spoke of Khomeini’s creeping dictatorship and urged them to “defend freedoms, freedom of speech, associations, and gatherings.” He proclaimed that the MEK would not be intimidated. “We’re not afraid of bullets,” he said, “If freedom means death, then we will die.”1
Hezbollah thugs tried unsuccessfully to force their way into the stadium, instead clashing with MEK supporters outside the facility. They threw stones and bricks, while policemen and Islamic Revolutionary Guards standing nearby chose not to intervene. When the government forces finally responded, they did so by firing tear gas into MEK crowds and automatic weapons into the air.
Le Monde reported that 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 upon departure from the stadium, leaving hundreds injured and five killed. Le Monde wrote that “[s]hots were fired from nearby roofs and bodies lay on the sidewalks. Young men with bloodied faces were running in all directions.”4
The MEK gained strength with each passing day as Khomeini’s support drained away. The Ayatollah openly considered the possibility of defeat, stating on June 17, “Never have I so much feared to see the Islamic Revolution end in failure.”5
On July 25, Khomeini declared the Mojahedin to be the “main enemy.” in a radio broadcast. 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 [MEK] are being called the intellectuals.”6
Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards saw Khomeini’s speech as de facto permission to destroy the pro-democracy MEK. To avoid further “shedding of innocent blood,” the MEK closed down 30 additional offices across Iran.7 The mullahs announced a ban on all political demonstrations a few weeks later.
Battle Lines Drawn
The Islamic revolution seemed to be on its last leg when, in late September, Iraqi military forces invaded Iran. This invasion breathed new life into the revolution. Iranians everywhere rallied to a call to arms. MEK members rushed to the battlefront to defend the country against the Iraqi invaders. (see www.mulahswar.com for more details)
Khomeini used the conflict as an opportunity to quell domestic opposition, arguing that all challenges to the ruling mullahs should be disregarded because of the war. Iraqi troops initially penetrated deep into Iranian territory, but beginning in January 1981, military forces in Iran mounted a series of successful counterattacks, turning the course of the war.
At home, the MEK continued its campaign for democracy and freedom. On April 24, 1981, the Mojahedin organized a demonstration against the killing of its members and sympathizers. More than 150,000 people took part in the rally.
June 20, 1981, marked a turning point. The MEK organized large rallies 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 (IRGC) 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-IRGC] 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 next day hundreds of people who had been arrested were executed by Khomeini’s regime, including 12 young girls whose identities were unknown. The authorities published their pictures in the daily newspaper, Ettela’at, asking their parents to claim the bodies.10
71 MEK members were murdered by the mullahs and another 2,500 were arrested and imprisoned prior to June 22. In the following months and years, more than 120,000 MEK members and supporters were killed by Khomeini and the ruling mullahs. Hundreds of thousands more were imprisoned and tortured.
Because of this bloodshed and brutality, the mullahs’ lost legitimacy with the people of Iran. 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 Rouleau, Eric. Iranian Left and Right Slugging It Out in Chaotic Fighting. Le Monde. June 14, 1980.
4 Mohaddessin, Mohammad. (2004). Enemies of the Ayatollahs. London: Zed Books.
5 Khomeini Warns Iran of Leftist Threat. New York Times. June 17, 1980.
6 Mohaddessin, Mohammad. (2004). Enemies of the Ayatollahs. London: Zed Books.
7 Khomeini Demands Government Purge. New York Times. June 28, 1980.
8 Reported Hiding Out in Tehran. Associated Press. June 20, 1981.
9 Abrahamian, Ervand. (1989). The Iranian Mojahedin. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
10 Mohaddessin, Mohammad. (2004). Enemies of the Ayatollahs. London: Zed Books.
Though the MEK is a political organization, its orientation, operation, and support derives from its interpretation of Islam, which was conceived in its early years. The MEK believes that Islam is an inherently tolerant and democratic religion and is fully compatible with the values of modern-day civilization.
The Mojahedin believe that freedom, gender, ethnic and religious equality, human rights, and peace are more than just political commitments; they are ideological principles based on their view of the Quran and the traditions and teachings of Prophet Muhammad, Shiite Imams, and other leaders.
The MEK’s political platform and interpretation of Islam are one and the same. This combination makes the MEK unique amongst political groups, and it is a major reason the organization continues today to amass broad public support.
The Shah feared the MEK because of its popularity and its commitment to democracy and human rights. The same holds true for Iran’s mullahs. The clerics’ ideology, which is intolerant, extremist, genocidal, non-democratic, and misogynist, is directly opposed to the Mojahedin’s interpretation of Islam.
In 1982, Mr. Rajavi gave a speech discussing the MEK and Islam:
“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
The following are some additional details of the MEK’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 MEK believes that genuine Islam is a dynamic faith that does not impede social progress. Islam 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, reflecting changes in society and advancements in culture and in social relationships. In the Prophet Muhammad’s later years, new verses t were revealed to him that were more advanced with respect to these issues.
This explains why only 600 verses in the Quran (less than 10 percent) deal with edicts. The limited number of edicts shows that the Quran was not intended to replace the role of human beings to legislate for society and mankind. Instead, the Quran removed obstacles to social evolution. The Quran states that it came to remove the chains and shackles from human beings already subjugated by oppressive rulers and regimes.3 In doing so, humans could create a way of life consistent with their specific historical era, with complete freedom and consciousness.
Rules of Conduct and Edicts
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 unalterable dogma, while the MEK believes neither the Quran nor Islam support the claim that these rules are unchangeable and must be implemented at all times. Rather the Quran emphasizes that social and economic edicts must be designed for each era to prevent decadent, anti-counter-revolutionary forces from halting the advancement of human society.
The MEK believes that the rigid and reactionary interpretation of Islam, exemplified by Khomeini and fundamentalist clerics, is un-Islamic and runs contrary to the spirit of Islam.
The MEK believes that democracy is essential to Islam. “Islam blossoms only in the spirit of freedom and truthfulness,” the MEK says, “and therefore cannot trample upon the legitimate rights of the people.”4
The Quran says that the attribute that most distinguishes humans from animals is their free will and individual responsibility. This is why 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, has historically been realized through democratic governance. The Quran and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad and leaders such as Ali ibn Ali Taleb, the first Shiite Imam, emphasize the necessity of giving power to the people. Their teachings stress 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.
In contrast, fundamentalist mullahs reject the concepts of free will and individual choice. Democracy, in their opinion, is incompatible with Islam. The MEK disagrees and believes that 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 Ballot Box
The MEK believes that the only criterion for political legitimacy is the ballot-box. The electorate, expressing itself in a free and fair election, gives a party, group, coalition, or individual the mandate to govern.
Fundamentalist mullahs believe in the concept of velayat-e faqih, which turns over the law, power, and legitimacy to a Supreme Leader. Such a clerical system is by definition totalitarian because it does not allow for freedom and the right to engage in political activity for anyone other than those who support an Islamic state.
Iranian women are the primary victims of religious dictatorship and dogma imposed by the mullahs. The clerical regime treats women as second-class citizens and denies them leadership positions, such as the presidency and judgeships.
Fundamentalist mullahs believe husbands should be able to divorce their wives at will and take custody of the child after the divorce. They believe fathers have the right to marry off their daughters to anyone they choose, and once she becomes an adult, she has no right to protest.
The MEK supports gender equality in all arenas, 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 MEK.
In 1980 Mr. Rajavi discussed 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 Mohaddessin, Mohammad. (2004). Enemies of the Ayatollahs. London: Zed Books.
5 Quran, Sura 2, Verse 256.
6 Mohahed (MEK Daily Newspaper). June 15, 1980.