London, 2 Jul – Experts and scholars, prior to participating in #FreeIran gathering, joined a panel discussion, held in Paris to discuss the current social-political situation in Iran and the role of the Iranian opposition (MEK) in this regards. The meeting was organized by the “Foundation for Middle East Studies (FEMO)”, and the “Alliance for Public Awareness, Iranian Communities in Europe(APA)”. The panel was moderated by Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield, former Assistant Secretary of State for Military Affairs, who was joined by Kenneth Blackwell, former US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Linda Chavez, Founder and Chairwoman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and former White House Public Relations Liaison, Ramesh Sepehrrad, scholar practitioner from George Mason University in the US, Robert Torricelli, Member of the US Senate from 1997 to 2003 who also served 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Mohammed Alsulami, head of AGCIS and expert on Iran.
Ramesh Sepehrrad, the first speaker in the panel, who had focused her research on Iranian affairs, political governance, human rights, gender equality and U.S. policy, said that she once led a study of opposition groups to see where the core argument is. She found that the role of the Supreme Leader, the role of women and gender equality and democratic views were core issues when looking at opposition groups. For these specific reasons, the MEK and NCRI stand out.
Sepehrrad highlighted that this is not just in relation to rhetoric, but in particular with regards to action taken. She said that these opposition groups engage with the people of Iran on a day to day basis.
She said that the NCRI is popular inside Iran. Obviously, this is not something that can be easily checked by doing a poll or carrying out a survey because of the Iranian regime’s extreme reactions of violence when faced with dissent. There are countless cases of people being punished when they are discovered to be supporting the opposition. However, she said that the popularity of the NCRI can be gauged when participation at major events is analysed. Supporters of the NCRI/MEK are present at the right place, at the right time, posing questions the source of which are none by the NCRI/MEK. Supporters of the NCRI/MEK risk everything to stand up to the regime. Young people, old people, women, students – everyone will question the regime.
Sepehrrad said that there have been renewed calls for justice for the 1988 massacre in which over 30,000 political prisoners were executed. She said that this could be the perfect opportunity for the West to take effective action against the regime. With the support of Western governments calling for justice, more and more people in the country will stand up against the regime knowing it has international support. She believes that this is a weakness that must be used as an opening. Another opening is the regime’s infighting and the factional disputes that are making the people stronger.
When asked if Iran being expelled from Syria would make a difference she said yes – the regime’s plans for Syria will crumble, and this will have a knock-on effect that will cause the whole regime to crumble.
Linda Chavez spoke about the history between the PMOI/MEK and the US. She said that it is a history that started off very badly. The United States put the PMOI/MEK on the terrorist list and for many years was not taken seriously because of this designation. However, the PMOI/MEK were rightfully removed from the terrorist list and are now in a position to be heard again.
She emphasised that the NCRI/MEK now has a very strong following in Iran and needs to have a stronger following in the West. Although there is a large bipartisan following in Washington, there is room for improvement. She believes that with President Trump in office there is a good possibility that MEK’s voice will be heard.
Blackwell spoke about the humanitarian and strategic interests of the Iranian situation. He said it would be great if both interests could be addressed at the same time, but that it was likely the United States would go for strategic interests first. This would be to topple the regime.
With regards to the strategic side, he said that the NCRI/MEK has exposed extremely strategic information at extremely important times.
Blackwell said that he wants to ensure that we support and nurture the forces of freedom that advance human rights. “We have to look for forces of good. Let a thousand blossoms bloom.” He said he strongly believes that the corrupt and repressive regime can be toppled.
He emphasised that human rights struggles are not a spectator sport. “You can’t sit on the side-lines. You have to engage and do what you can where you are.” Blackwell believes that efforts can trigger major changes and said that the regime’s illegitimacy is so multi-faceted that its reign has a short life expectancy.
Mohammed Alsulami pointed out that Iran is a country that is very rich in natural resources, yet 50 per cent of retired people live under the poverty line, 75 per cent of teachers live under the poverty line and 40 percent of the whole population live under the poverty line. He said that employment is at a terribly low rate and that there is a big problem with addiction in the country with reports of children as young as 12 suffering from different forms of addiction.
He rubbished claims that Rouhani is a reformist because the rate of executions has risen. The large amount of funds that were released because of the nuclear deal were spent outside Iran on fuelling wars and terrorism.
Alsulami believes the problems started in 1979 after the revolution. Death to Saudi Arabia and death to America were slogans that were not heard before the revolution. Iran had a good relationship with its regional neighbours before the revolution – any conflicts that arose were solved politically. Sunnis and Shias used to live together peacefully, so much so that no one ever questioned whether their neighbour was Sunni or Shia.
Robert Torricelli paid tribute to the people that have dealt with and lived through extraordinary tragedies.
He said that military conflict is not a solution because it probably wouldn’t work. He also thinks it is certain that the regime cannot heal itself and evolve because there is simply no evidence to prove this. If left to continue on the same path, the regime will implode from within because it is in an unstable situation.
He said that the MEK serves a function for the aspirations of the Iranian people. They have the resources to bring great change to Iran and he is adamant that it is the only organisation that can do so because it is viable and set on complete political change. He pointed out that its members have made the ultimate sacrifice – given their lives – to fight against the regime and to bring freedom to the people. It fights against the regime every single day and can help the people of Iran take the future into their own hands.
More about PMOI (MEK)
The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (Also known as MEK, or Mujahedin-e-Khalq / Mujahedeen-e-Khalq), was founded on September 6, 1965, by Mohammad Hanifnejad, Saeed Mohsen, and Ali-Asghar 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.
The MEK’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 MEK to formulate its view of Islam and develop a strategy to replace Iran’s dictatorial monarchy with a democratic government.
MEK’s interpretation of Islam
The theocratic mullah regime in Iran believe interpreting Islam is their exclusive domain. The MEK reject this view and the cleric’s reactionary vision of Islam. The MEK’s comprehensive interpretation of Islam proved to be more persuasive and appealing to the Iranian youth.
MEK’s founders and new members studied the various schools of thought, the Iranian history and those of other countries, enabling them to analyze other philosophies and ideologies with considerable knowledge and to present their own ideology, based on Islam, as the answer to Iran’s problems.
MEK’s leadership’s arrest during the 70s.
The Shah’s notorious secret police, SAVAK, arrested all MEK leaders and most of its member’s in1971. On May 1972, the founders of the MEK, Mohammad Hanifnejad , Saeed Mohsen and Ali Asghar Badizadegan, along with two members of the MEK leadership, Mahmoud Askarizadeh and Rasoul Meshkinfam, were put before death squads and were executed after long months of imprisonment and torture. They were the true vanguards, who stood against the dictatorial regime of Shah. However, they are also recognized for their opposition to what is today known as Islamic fundamentalism.
The death sentence of Massoud Rajavi, a member of MEK’s central committee, was commuted to life imprisonment as a result of an international campaign by his Geneva based brother, Dr. Kazem Rajavi (assassinated in April 1990 in Geneva by mullahs’ agents) and the personal intervention of the French President Georges Pompidou and Francois Mitterrand. He was the only survivor of the MEK original leadership.
Massoud Rajavi’s critical role in characterizing religious extremism
From 1975 to 1979, while incarcerated in different prisons, Massoud Rajavi led the MEK’s struggle while constantly under torture for his leading position.
Massoud Rajavi stressed the need to continue the struggle against the shah’s dictatorship. At the same time, he characterized religious fanaticism as the primary internal threat to the popular opposition, and warned against the emergence and growth of religious fanaticism and autocracy. He also played a crucial role when some splinter used the vacuum in the MEK leadership who were all executed or imprisoned at the time, to claim a change of ideology and policy. Massoud Rajavi as the MEK leader condemn these individual’s misuse of MEK’s name while continuing to stress the struggle against dictatorship. His efforts while still in prison forced these individuals to no longer operating under the name of MEK and adopting a different name for their group. These positions remained the MEK’s manifesto until the overthrow of the shah’s regime.
Release of Political Prisoners on the last days of the Shah
A month before the 1979 revolution in Iran, the Shah was forced to flee Iran, never to return. All democratic opposition leaders had by then either been executed by the Shah’s SAVAK or imprisoned, and could exert little influence on the trend of events. Khomeini and his network of mullahs across the country, who had by and large been spared the wrath of SAVAK, were the only force that remained unharmed and could take advantage of the political vacuum. In France, Khomeini received maximum exposure to the world media. With the aid of his clerical followers, he hijacked a revolution that began with calls for democracy and freedom and diverted it towards his fundamentalist goals. Through an exceptional combination of historical events, Shiite clerics assumed power in Iran.
Khomeini’s gradual crackdown on MEK in fear of their popular support
In internal discourses, Rajavi the remaining leader of the MEK, argued that Khomeini represented the reactionary sector of society and preached religious fascism. Later, in the early days after the 1979 revolution, the mullahs, specifically Rafsanjani, pointed to these statements in inciting the hezbollahi club-wielders to attack the MEK.
Following the revolution, the MEK became Iran’s largest organized political party. It had hundreds of thousands of members who operated from MEK offices all over the country. MEK publication, ‘Mojahed’ was circulated in 500,000 copies.
Khomeini set up an Assembly of Experts comprised of sixty of his closest mullahs and loyalists to ratify the principle of velayat-e faqih (absolute supremacy of clerical rule) as a pillar of the Constitution. The MEK launched a nationwide campaign in opposition to this move, which enjoyed enormous popular support. Subsequently, the MEK refused to approve the new constitution based on the concept of velayat-e faqih, while stressing its observance of the law of the country to deny the mullahs any excuse for further suppression of MEK supporters who were regularly targeted by the regime’s official and unofficial thugs.
Khomeini sanctioned the occupation of the United States embassy in 1979 in order to create an anti-American frenzy, which facilitated the holding of a referendum to approve his Constitution, which the MEK rejected.
MEK’s endeavors to participate in the political process avoiding an unwanted conflict with government repressive forces
The MEK actively participated in the political process, fielding candidates for the parliamentary and presidential elections. The MEK also entered avidly into the national debate on the structure of the new Islamic regime, though was unsuccessful in seeking an elected constituent assembly to draft a constitution.
The MEK similarly made an attempt at political participation when [then] Massoud Rajavi ran for the presidency in January 1980. MEK’s leader was forced to withdraw when Khomeini ruled that only candidates who had supported the constitution in the December referendum – which the MEK had boycotted- were eligible. Rajavi’s withdrawal statement emphasized the MEK’s efforts to conform to election regulations and reiterated the MEK’s intention to advance its political aims within the new legal system”. (Unclassified report on the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran(PMOI/ MEK) by the Department of State to the United States House of Representatives, December 1984.)
However, the MEK soon found itself in a direct struggle against the forces of the regime’s Supreme leader. The MEK’s differences with Khomeini dated back to the 1970s, and stem from its opposition to what is known today as Islamic extremism. Angry at the position taken by the MEK against his regime and worried about the MEK’s growing popularity, Khomeini ordered a brutal crackdown against the MEK and its supporters. Between 1979 and 1981, some 70 MEK members and sympathizers were killed and several thousand more were imprisoned by the Iranian regime.
June 20, 1981- Khomeini’s order to open fire on peaceful demonstration of half-a-million supporters of MEK
The turning point came on 20th June 1981, when the MEK called a demonstration to protest at the regime’s crackdown, and to call for political freedom which half-a-million supporters participated at. Khomeini ordered the Revolutionary Guards to open fire on the swelling crowd, fearing that without absolute repression the democratic opposition (MEK) would force him to engage in serious reforms – an anathema as far as he was concerned; he ordered the mass and summary executions of those arrested.
Since then, MEK activists have been the prime victims of human rights violations in Iran. Over 120,000 of its members and supporters have been executed by the Iranian regime, 30,000 of which, were executed in a few months in the summer of 1988, on a direct fatwa by Khomeini, which stated any prisoners who remain loyal to the MEK must be executed.
Having been denied its fundamental rights and having come under extensive attack at the time that millions of its members, supporters and sympathizers had no protection against the brutal onslaught of the Iranian regime, the MEK had no choice but to resist against the mullahs’ reign of terror.
“Towards the end of 1981, many of the members of the MEK and supporters went into exile. Their principal refuge was in France. But in 1986, after negotiations between the French and the Iranian authorities, the French government effectively treated them as undesirable aliens, and the leadership of the MEK with several thousand followers relocated to Iraq.” (Judgment of the Proscribed Organizations Appeal Commission, November 30, 2007.)
The MEK today is the oldest and largest anti-fundamentalist Muslim group in the Middle East. It has been active for more than a half century, battling two dictatorships and a wide range of issues. The MEK supports:
• Universal suffrage as the sole criterion for legitimacy
• Pluralistic system of governance
• Respect for individual freedoms
• Ban on the death penalty
• Separation of religion and state
• Full gender equality
• Equal participation of women in political leadership. MEK is actually led by its central committee consist of 1000 women.
• Modern judicial system that emphasizes the principle of innocence, a right to a defense, and due process
• Free markets
• Relations with all countries in the world
• Commitment to a non-nuclear Iran
The MEK remains a strong and cohesive organization, with a broad reach both worldwide and deep within Iran. MEK is the leading voice for democracy in Iran, supported by its interpretation of Islam that discredits the fundamentalist mullahs’ regime.