International Herald Tribune
By Craig S. Smith
December 13, 2006
PARIS – Europe’s second-highest court on Tuesday annulled a European Union decision that had frozen the funds of an Iranian exile group and called into question the group’s label as a terrorist organization.
The ruling by the European Court of First Instance was more than a financial victory for the group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, which has long argued that its terrorist label was unfair.
“All restrictions resulting from the terror tag should be removed from the Iranian resistance immediately,” the group’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, said at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. She said that the ruling proved that her organization was a legitimate resistance movement rather than a terrorist group.
The Mujahedeen Khalq was formed by leftist students in Iran in 1965 and quickly became one of the most active groups opposing Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. But the Islamic government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini turned against the group after the shah’s overthrow in 1979. It moved its headquarters to France and then to Iraq in 1986, where it set up a well-financed military based under the protection of Saddam Hussein. The U.S. military disarmed the militia in May 2003 and has since kept its members confined to a camp north of Baghdad since then.
Rajavi remained in Paris, in charge of the group’s political activities as head of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. She has been lobbying for the group to be taken seriously as a viable opposition movement to topple the Islamic theocracy in Iran.
She says the organization has been unfairly labeled a terrorist organization out of the West’s misguided efforts to engage the Iranian government, and that the only real hope to effect change in Iran short of war is to support her organization and give it free rein.
Those hopes are not without some foundation: The fact that the group’s Iraqi military base is, in effect, under U.S. protection, suggests that Washington may yet envision a role for the group if relations with Iran deteriorate further.
The European court ruled Tuesday that the EU had not provided adequate reasons or a fair hearing in deciding to freeze the organization’s assets in 2002 and that the decision “must be annulled.” The EU issued a statement in response to the ruling saying that the organization would remain on the terrorist list and that it would consider appealing to the higher European Court of Justice.