Paris, 20 May (IPS) An armed Iranian opposition group in exile, the Mojahedin Khalq Organization, has subjected dissident members to torture and prolonged solitary confinement, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday 19 May 2005.
The 28-page report, “No Exit: Human Rights Abuses Inside the MKO Camps,” details how dissident members of the shadowy Organization (MKO) were tortured, beaten and held in solitary confinement for years at military camps in Iraq after they criticized the group’s policies and undemocratic practices, or indicated that they planned to leave the organization. The report is based on the direct testimonies of a dozen former MKO members, including five who were turned over to Iraqi security forces and held in Abu Ghraib prison under Saddam Hussein’s government.
“Members who try to leave the MKO pay a very heavy price”, said Joe Stork, Washington director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “These testimonies paint a grim picture of what happened to members who criticized the group’s leaders”.
Members who try to leave the MKO pay a very heavy price”, said Joe Stork, Washington director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division.
One former high-ranking MKO member, Mohammad Hussein Sobhani, was held in solitary confinement for eight-and-a-half years, from September 1992 to January 2001. The MKO then turned him over to Iraqi authorities. He was held in Abu Ghraib prison until 2002, when he was forcibly repatriated to Iran. The witnesses also reported two cases of deaths under interrogation by MKO operatives.
The MKO’s leadership consists of the husband and wife team of Mas’oud and Maryam Azodanlou-Qajar, the third wife of Mas’oud, who had divorced her husband, Mehdi Abrishamchi, the Organisation’s number two in command. The marriage in 1985 was hailed by the organization as the beginning of a permanent “ideological revolution. ”Various phases of this “revolution” include: divorce by decree of married couples, regular writings of self-criticism reports, renunciation of sexuality, and absolute mental and physical dedication to the leadership.
The “sacrifice” required of the members was articulated in a series of “ideological revolutions” promoted by the leadership. The leadership asked the members to divorce themselves from all physical and emotional attachments in order to enhance their “capacity for struggle.” In case of married couples, this phase of the “ideological revolution” required them to renounce their emotional ties to their spouses through divorce.
The level of devotion expected of members was in stark display in 2003 when the French police arrested Maryam Rajavi in Paris. In protest, ten MKO members and sympathizers set themselves on fire in various European cities; two of them subsequently died. Former members cite the implementation of the “ideological revolution” as a major source of the psychological and physical abuses committed against the group’s members.
In 1997, the U.S. government classified the MKO as a “foreign terrorist organization.” The European Union included the MKO in its list of “terrorist and terrorist organizations” in 2002.
However, thanks to leading American public relations firms, many American lawmakers supported the MKO and the Pentagon, against the advice from the State Department, tried to use the Organisation as a lever of pressures over the Islamic Republic.
On April 14, several members of the U.S. Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, attended the National Convention for a Democratic, Secular Republic in Iran, an event that an MKO-backed organization held in Washington. Among other members of Congress, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R., Colo.) has called for removal of the MKO from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. On February 10, a think-tank co-chaired by retired U.S. military officers, the Iran Policy Committee, called for the removal of the designation and for the U.S. government to actively support the group against the Iranian government.
MKO’s political wing, the National Council of Resistance, which is based in France, continues to lobby the U.S. government and EU countries to remove this designation and lift the restrictions that have ensued. From Washington to Brussels, the group is presenting itself as a “democratic alternative” to Iran’s government. The MKO’s political wing has presented itself as the Iranian “government in exile” and has called on the international community for recognition.
After the French government in 2003 arrested MKO co-leader Maryam Rajavi on suspicion of plotting terrorist activity on French soil, 40 members of parliaments across Europe, as well as the European Parliament, publicly called for the removal of MKO’s terrorist designation.
“The Iranian government has a dreadful record on human rights,” said Stork. “But it would be a huge mistake to promote an opposition group that is responsible for serious human rights abuses.”
The MKO was founded in 1965 as an Islamic urban guerrilla group to challenge the Shah’s government and had murdered dozens of people, including bank officials, ordinary policemen, provincial clerks, and, more spectacularly, several American military technician hired by the Shah.
In 1981, two years after the Iranian revolution, the anti-clerical group went underground after trying to incite an armed uprising against Ayatollah Khomeini. After exile in France, the group’s leaders relocated to Iraq in 1986.
The MKO trained its fighters under the banner of the National Liberation Army (NLA) inside Iraq. The NLA established several military camps in Iraq and trained thousands of guerrilla fighters to fight against the Iranian regime
During the Iran-Iraq war, the NLA fighters regularly attacked Iranian troops along the Iran-Iraq border and made several incursions into Iran. The largest operation by the NLA took place after Iran accepted U.N. resolution 598, calling for a ceasefire between Iran and Iraq. Iran accepted the U.N. resolution on July 18, 1988. The NLA forces, estimated at nearly 7,000 fighters, were immediately mobilized for an attack on Iran. This operation was named Eternal Light.
Thanks to leading American public relations firms, many American lawmakers supported the MKO and the Pentagon tried to use the Organisation as a lever of pressures over the Islamic Republic.
During late 1994 and early 1995, many members of the MKO were arrested by the organization’s operatives inside their camps in Iraq. They were interrogated and accused of spying for the Iranian government. They were released in mid-1995 after being forced to sign false confessions and stating their loyalty to the leadership. Five former MKO members interviewed for this report were arrested during this period: Farhad Javaheri-Yar, Ali Ghashghavi, Alireza Mirasgari, Akbar Akbari, and Abbas Sadeghinejad. According to their testimonies—detailed in the next section—the purpose of these arrests was to intimidate dissidents and obtain false confessions from them stating that they were agents of Iranian government. This period was known as the “security clearance” (check-e amniyati).
After the war ended in 1988, Iranian courts issued summary rulings to execute thousands of political prisoners, including many MKO members.
The fall of Saddam Hussein’s government in April 2003 put an end to Iraqi financial and logistical support for the MKO. After the U.S.-led invasion, the U.S. military disarmed MKO forces operating in Iraq. In July, the U.S. designated them as “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions and confines more than 3,000 of them in their main military camp north of Baghdad.
“During the last 20 years of their activity, the Mujahedin caused the death of at least a quarter of a million Iranians. Their hit-squads and suicide-bombers killed hundreds of officials, religious leaders, and personalities of the Khomeinist regime. In their border attacks on Iran, from bases in Iraq, the Mujahedin killed large numbers of innocent Iranians. In turn, the regime executed thousands of Mujahedin members and sympathisers”, wrote Mr. Amir Taheri, a veteran Iranian journalist and writer, introducing the book of Mr. Mas’oud Banisadr: “Memoirs of an Iranian Rebel”.
But as President George W. Bush praised the MKO as “reliable source” of information on Iranian nuclear activities, current and former senior U.S. national security officials, who asked not to be named because they are not supposed to talk about intelligence-gathering activities, say that all the major revelations MKO publicly claims to have made regarding nuclear advances in Iran were reported in classified form—and from other sources—to U.S. policymakers before MKO made them public.
MKO dissidents told Iran Press Service that most the information about secret Iranian nuclear programs and sitess revealed by the MKO were in fact provided to the Organisation by some Pentagon officials in order to get the MKO off the terrorist list and use its members as infiltrating agents inside Iran. ENDS MKO ABUSES 20505