The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), also referred to as Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) is the principal Iranian opposition movement and member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of democratic opposition groups and personalities. It was founded in 1965 by three anti-fundamentalist Muslim university graduates to oppose the despotic regime of the Shah. The MEK espouses a modern, democratic interpretation of Islam, with a decidedly nationalist political perspective.
The MEK believes that elections and public suffrage are the sole indicators of political legitimacy and that human freedom is the hallmark and guarantor of genuine social progress.
The organization “set itself the objective of replacing the regime of the Shah of Iran, then the mullahs’ regime, by a democracy.” (Judgment of the Court of First Instance of the European Communities, December 12, 2006.)
All MEK founders and its Central Committee, including the subsequent leader of the organization, Massoud Rajavi, as well as ninety percent of its cadres and members were arrested by the Shah’s secret police (SAVAK) in 1971. Most were executed. Those who escaped arrest or detention were either killed or arrested in 1972, which resulted in an end to the MEK’s organizational presence outside prisons.
Nevertheless, the MEK enjoyed widespread influence and credibility across the country. For this reason, in the 1970s, many groups, whether with religious orientations or with Marxist leanings, used the MEK name. The organization’s structure was reconstituted only after the imprisoned MEK members gained their freedom in the final months of 1978 and in January 1979.
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, and its publication, ‘Mojahed’ had a circulation of 500,000 copies.
Contrary to promises he made in Paris about the creation of a Constitutional Assembly, Ayatollah Khomeini set up an Assembly of Experts comprised of sixty of his closest confidants to ratify the principle of velayat-e faqih (absolute supremacy of clerical rule) as a pillar of the Constitution. The MEK launched a nationwide social and political campaign in opposition to this move, which enjoyed enormous popular support.
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. Despite the overly sympathetic environment for Khomeini in the aftermath of the hostage taking, the MEK declared that it will not vote for the Constitution despite the tremendous risks that decision entailed.
The organization actively participated in the political process, fielding candidates for the parliamentary and presidential elections. “The Mojahedin also entered avidly into the national debate on the structure of the new Islamic regime. The Mojahedin unsuccessfully sought a freely elected constituent assembly to draft a constitution.
The Mojahedin similarly made an attempt at political participation when [then] Mojahedin leader Massoud Rajavi ran for the presidency in January 1980. Rajavi was forced to withdraw when Ayatollah Khomeini ruled that only candidates who had supported the constitution in the December referendum – which the Mojahedin had boycotted- were eligible. Rajavi’s withdrawal statement emphasized the group’s efforts to conform to election regulations and reiterated the Mojahedin’s intention to advance its political aims within the new legal system”. (Unclassified report on the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran 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 Ayatollah Khomeini and his regime. The MEK’s differences with Khomeini dated back to the 1970s, and stem from its opposition to what is known today as Islamic fundamentalism. Although the MEK derives its ideology from Islam, as Khomeini did, unlike Khomeini and his followers, the MEK believes in freedom, tolerance and democratic values.
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 sympathisers were killed and several thousand more were imprisoned by the Iranian regime.
The turning point came on 20th June 1981, when the MEK called a half-a-million-strong peaceful demonstration to protest at the Iranian regime’s crackdown, and to call for political freedom. Khomeini ordered the Revolutionary Guards to open fire on the swelling crowd, fearing that the situation would spiral out of control. Concerned that without absolute repression the democratic opposition 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 members and supporters have been the prime victims of human rights violations in Iran. Some 120,000 of its members and supporters have been executed by the Iranian regime, including 30,000 political prisoners who were executed in a few months between the summer and autumn of 1988, on the basis of a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini.
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.)
Many observers, including 35 British parliamentarians, who successfully challenged the deproscription of the MEK in the UK, as well as the British Court of Appeal, affirmed that “in June 2001, at an Extraordinary Congress in Iraq, MEK decided to put an end to its military activities. It has since pursued a campaign to legitimise its status as a peaceful democratic movement and has attracted support in this aim from the respondents [Parliamentarians].” (Judgment of the UK Court of Appeal, May 6, 2008.) The organisation has enjoyed the backing of majorities in parliaments in Europe and in the U.S. House of Representatives on several different occasions.
“The MEK remained armed until the invasion of Iraq by coalition forces in March 2003. At that date Camp Ashraf was surrounded and a large arsenal of weapons was surrendered by agreement”. (Judgment of the UK Court of Appeal, May 6, 2008.)
“The Iranian government remains hostile to MEK. In August 2002 the NCRI publicised detailed allegations of Iran’s programme for the acquisition of nuclear weapons.” (Judgment of the UK Court of Appeal, May 6, 2008.) The MEK has continued to be the primary source for revealing Iran’s secret nuclear program as well as its meddling in Iraq and other countries.
The MEK has embraced the platform of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is committed to the separation of church and state, freedom of religion, speech, assembly, press, political parties, as well as gender and religious equality.