Iranian Human Rights Defenders Reject War

August 5, 2011

Over the past 9 years, many different cases have been made by Iran hawks in support of a military strike against the country. Much of the focus is on Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, and the possible threat that it would pose against U.S. allies in the region. But many war supporters also justify “the military option” by exploiting the worsening of human rights abuses in Iran and suggesting that the support of Iranian citizens can be gained through a war of regime change. In reality, neither group takes the voices and concerns of Iranians within Iran into consideration. These concerns include the disastrous effects war would have on the worsening human rights abuses within the Islamic Republic, and for Iran’s peaceful democratic opposition.

Last week, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran published “Raising Their Voices, Iranian Civil Society Reflections on the Military Option”. In an attempt to document the perspective of Iranians inside Iran in their report, the organization interviewed 35 of Iranian writers, human rights defenders, members of the political opposition, lawyers, student activists, cultural leaders, and journalists.

The report shows an overwhelming response rejecting a war against Iran: “military action against Iran by the United States or Israel would be futile, counterproductive and irrational. Accordingly, while achieving none of the goals used to justify such action, a strike would lead to further political regression and repression, deeper enmity between the Iranian people and the United States, and severe humanitarian problems.”

Even though many Iran hawks claim that military action is a threat to the Islamic Republic and could be helpful to the reformists or the opposition of the regime, the fact is that many extremists within the regime welcome the idea. Nationalism is and has always been a powerful factor within the Iranian society. “A war with Iran,” says the report, “would strengthen the current regime by stoking nationalism and dividing the opposition, and undercut the Iranian public’s goodwill toward the United States.”

Many Iranian citizens do want change and reform; they do not however, want a foreign imposition of such change for many reasons. “An attack would further militarize the state, exacerbate the human rights crisis in Iran, and undermine Iranian civil society and the pro-democracy movement,” says the report. War would put into the lives of political prisoners in Iran in further danger–Iranians remember well the many political prisoners who fell victim to mass executions during the Iran-Iraq war. A US military strike would also lead to more human rights violations, more extreme government crackdowns, economic, and environmental consequences.

Mohammad Seifzadeh, a leading human rights lawyer, who has served a prison sentence in Iran, has voiced his concern: “If a war were to take place right now, the atmosphere would definitely become more restricted and more limitations would be imposed upon intellectuals, human rights activist, social elites and students.”

The debates concerning a military strike against the Islamic Republic have not taken the voices of Iranian citizens, the people who will be affected the most by military action, into consideration. Iranians have essential insight to administer about the repercussions of a US military strike against Iran in regards to the future of US-Iran relations, regional and domestic stability, and protection of human rights.

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Why Do We Need to Stand Up to the MEK?

July 21, 2011

The push to remove the MEK from the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations is intensifying in Congress and in pro-war circles in Washington.

A vote is coming before the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week on whether to endorse removing the Iranian Mujahedin from the U.S. foreign terrorist organizations lists.  This would enable it to operate freely and even receive U.S. funding for renewed attacks in Iran.

And John Bolton and Daniel Pipes, who have openly called for the U.S. to bomb Iran, have recently ratcheted up their calls for the MEK to be taken off the terrorist list.

Supporters of the Mujahedin don’t care that the group has no support in Iran. They favor the Mujahedin because it uses violence and terror.

We are standing up to the Mujahedin for three reasons:

1) Delisting the Mujahedin and unleashing its violence would be a major blow to the non-violent, pro-democracy movement.

As Iranian-Americans, we more than anyone else should know from experience that violence can defeat a dictator, but it cannot give us democracy. We have to break the cycle of violence, not perpetuate it.

2) Delisting the Mujahedin would unleash a major force for war.

For years, the Mujahedin have lobbied for the US to attack Iran and to help install MEK leader Maryam Rajavi into power.  We’ve seen how effective they have lobbied for war even while they are a designated terrorist organization.  De-listing them will be a major boost to their lobbying campaign to start a US-Iran war.

3) Delisting the Mujahedin threatens the free, peaceful voices of the Iranian-American community

For years, the Mujahedin have smeared and defamed anyone and any group who differed with them, including Iranian-American organizations and even individuals like Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi.

As Iranian Americans, we have the ability and responsibility to help break the cycle of violence that has engulfed Iran.  NIAC is the only organization standing up to prevent this from happening.

But we need your help.

Join us in taking a stance for non-violence, democracy and human rights.

Donate $100 today for our efforts to prevent war, protect the pro-democracy movement and break the cycle of violence.


MEK’s attempts to hijack the Green Movement

July 20, 2011

The Mujahedin-e Khalq campaign to be removed from the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organization’s has been fueled by plenty of misinformation.  One big lie that MEK has spread in Washington is that the group is popularly supported in Iran and is the “main opposition.”

This attempt to hijack Iran’s indigenous Green Movement is nothing new.

In his recent book, Then They Came For Me, journalist Maziar Bahari provides a fascinating account of his experience covering the 2009 elections in Iran and their aftermath, and the detention and abuse he endured when he was arrested and detained for 118 days in Evin prison.

Before his arrest, Bahari covered the massive protests and witnessed firsthand how “MEK sympathizers had acted as agents provocateurs among the protestors, inciting violence” during the peaceful demonstrations.

Bahari writes that, during the June 13 demonstration, “The Basijis…normally so rash and confrontational—were clearly intimidated by the sheer size of the crowd.”  But as he worked his way through the masses, Bahari heard shots ring out.  A small group of MEK sympathizers were attacking a Basij building with Molotov cocktails:

“Before long, the Basijis stopped firing warning shots and began shooting indiscriminately into the crowd of protestors.  The two Basijis on the roof did not seem to care if the people they were shooting at were attackers or passerbys.  Many peaceful demonstrators in the crowd panicked and started to throw stones at the compound.”

Bahari describes how one of the men attacking the base was shot and killed by the Basijis.  Ultimately 7 people were killed in the attack, and the violence rippled through the nonviolent protests.

“As the Basij started to spread bullets into the crowd, as people scrambled to take cover as bloodied people ran out of the street, and as MEK supporters started to chant, “Death to the Islamic Republic,” I continued to film.

“Hush. Be quiet!  Change the slogan!  Allahu akbar! God is great!” screamed a couple of older men trying to get the crowd out of the street.  “We haven’t come here to say, ‘Death to the Islamic Republic.’”

“We here to support Mousavi,” said another woman.  “Not fight!”

A small group of young men approached a few of the older men who were trying to calm people down.  “Kafeh shin madar saga!” one said, throwing punches at an older man.  “Shut up, you sons of bitches!”  The crowd erupted into a brawl.

“Death to Khamenei!” cried a teenager as he joined the others hitting the older men.  I turned my camera toward him.

Bahari goes on to describe the reaction among Green Movement leaders:

Mousavi was quite upset about the attack, but he was not going to let terrorists hijack the green movement—which was how the support for Mousavi was becoming known.  Mousavi had decided to tell his supporters to take to the streets one more time and avoid any confrontation with the police and the Guards that could provoke further violence.

Bahari subsequently published an article in Newsweek on the incident, “Who’s Behind Tehran’s Violence?  Opposition supporters worry about their movement being hijacked.”  The piece, which came out just days before Bahari was arrested, quotes a peaceful demonstrator:

“I think some small terrorist groups and criminal gangs are taking advantage of the situation.  Thirty years after the revolution and 20 years after the war, the majority of Iranians despise violence and terror. My worry is that if the government doesn’t allow reforms to take place, we will fall into a terrorism abyss like the years after the revolution.”

Bahari writes:

“The supposed reelection of Ahmadinejad was a gift to such groups. On their Web sites they claim that the alleged rigging of the vote has revealed the true face of the regime. (Like some Israeli commentators, they argue that the victory of a moderate like Mousavi would actually extend the life of the regime.) It is true that in the past, whenever hardliners have intensified their grip, these groups have gained more support. They reacted angrily when pro-reform Mohammad Khatami was elected president in 1997.”

The vast majority of Iranians don’t want these groups to have any part in their movement for democracy.  They continue to be wary of attempts by violent groups to “hijack” their movement and risk reigniting a vicious cycle of violence that would undermine well over a century of work toward democracy in Iran.  De-listing the MEK would do just that.


Left Outside the Circle: Iranians and Google+

July 12, 2011

The newly launched Google social network service called Google+ has created a major buzz online, but has also sparked many questions (and some answers).  Why do we need another social network? What does it have to offer more than Twitter and Facebook?

But for Iranians, there is an even bigger question: will I even be allowed to use Google+?

That’s because the combination of the online filtering carried out by Iran’s government, paired with a U.S. sanctions regime that dissuades companies from offering services in Iran, often leaves Iranians stuck in limbo when it comes to access to social networking tools.

Sadly, with Google+ it looks like the supposedly contradictory forces of repression and sanctions are yet again working in tandem to leave ordinary Iranians outside of the social networking loop.

Over the past decade, despite the many obstacles, Iranians have been vanguards in utilizing social networks. Their journey started with Orkut, which created a huge amount of excitement around experiencing totally new online atmosphere.  Soon after, Orkut was blocked.

Then Yahoo 360 became popular and remained popular until Facebook emerged. Iranians settled into this social network like many other users around the world, and they gradually found their way to bypass the Iran government’s filtering by using VPN or anti-filter software. At the same time, some Iranians use Google Reader, which they called Gooder, as an underground sphere to distribute contents of blocked websites and news agencies in Iran.

Through Facebook, Iranian public figures for the first time started to publicly use social media to directly interact with their supporters. Eventually, Facebook was used in the 2009 election (and later in its aftermath), along with Twitter and YouTube–inspired in part by how Obama’s 2008 campaign utilized these tools. In so doing, Iran became the first Middle-Eastern country to use social media to mobilize people for political purposes. The phenomenon, sometimes referred to as a “twitter revolution” or Revolution 2.0, followed again with the Arab Spring.

Last week, when Google launched Google+ after two unsuccessful experiences in Google Buzz and Google Wave, Iranians started to look to the service and begin considering it next to Facebook, Twitter, and Google Reader. The initial impression of Google+ is that it has two main areas of potential for Iranians: 1) its integration with Google Reader can unveil the underground networks of Google Reader and easily provide broad access to censored information in Iran, 2) its integration with Google’s homepage, Gmail, and the new Google Toolbar can expand accessibility of Iranians to social networks because history shows that Google services have been the most challenging Internet services for Iran’s government to block.

But even before Google+ become publicly available, Iranians faced difficulties. First, Google banned this service for Iranian IPs and called Iran a “forbidden country.”  Then, a few days later, the Iranian government added Google Plus to their huge list of censored websites.

Now, VPN is the only option for Iranians to use Google+.  But not all the Iranians use VPN to bypass the governmental internet blockage because it is not free and it is not the most reliable or trustworthy option.

From an Iranian perspective, the government behavior is unacceptable, but expected. But for Google to block its new service for Iranians is shaemeful.  The U.S. government, which is talking about putting huge investment for providing free internet access for Iranians in projects like Internet in suitcase, should first take the easy steps and make sure that basic, widely used services like Google+ are not blocked by sanctions.


Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) Factsheet

July 8, 2011

MEK=TERROR
In a matter of weeks, a terrorist group known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) may succeed in getting removed from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations — not as a result of any change of heart — but as a result of an unprecedented and possibly illegal multi-million dollar media and lobbying blitz.

Iranian Americans know the truth about the MEK, but high-priced public relations and lobbying firms are hard at work trying to whitewash the MEK’s violent and disturbing record. And while they’ve been remarkably successful, they can’t completely escape the truth.  So, for the record, here are the facts about the MEK (you can find this and more at www.mekterror.com):

  • The State Department reports the MEK is a terrorist group that has murdered innocent Americans and maintains “the will and capacity” to commit terrorist attacks within the U.S. and beyond. [1]
  • The MEK claims to have renounced terrorism in 2001, but a 2004 FBI report states “the MEK is currently actively involved in planning and executing acts of terrorism.” [2]
  • RAND and Human Rights Watch have reported that the MEK is a cult that abuses its own members. [3] [4]
  • MEK has no popular support in Iran and has been denounced by the Green Movement, Iran’s peaceful democratic opposition movement.[5]

Iran’s Opposition Green Movement Rejects the MEK

  • The leaders of the Green Movement, Iran’s true popular opposition movement, have denounced the MEK and warned that the Iranian government seeks to discredit Iran’s opposition by associating it with the MEK:
  • “The Iranian Government is trying to connect those who truly love their country (the Greens) with the MEK to revive this hypocritical dead organization.” – Mehdi Karroubi, Green Movement leader. [6]
  • “The MEK can’t be part of the Green Movement. This bankrupt political group is now making some laughable claims, but the Green Movement and the MEK have a wall between them and all of us, including myself, Mr. Mousavi, Mr. Khatami, and Mr. Karroubi.” – Zahra Rahnavard, Women’s rights activist and wife of Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi[7]

Iraqi National Congress Redux?

  • The MEK claims it is “the main opposition in Iran,” yet similar to Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress that helped bring the United States into war with Iraq, the MEK is an exiled organization that has no popular support within Iran. [8]
  • RAND reports that the MEK are “skilled manipulators of public opinion.” The MEK has a global support network with active lobbying and propaganda efforts in major Western capitals. [9]
  • Members of Congress have been deceived and misinformed into supporting this terrorist  organization:
  • In 2002, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen led efforts for the U.S. to support the group, prompting then-Chairman and the Ranking Member of the House International Affairs Committee, Henry Hyde and Tom Lantos, to send a Dear Colleague warning against supporting the MEK.  They cautioned that many Members had been “embarrassed when confronted with accurate information about the MEK.” [10]
  • In the current Congress, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) have each introduced resolutions calling for MEK to be removed from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

A Capacity and Will to Commit Terrorist Acts in the U.S. & Beyond

  • The Bush administration determined in 2007 that “MEK leadership and members across the world maintain the capacity and will to commit terrorist acts in Europe, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, and beyond.” [11]
  • The Canadian and Australian governments have also designated the MEK as a terrorist organization. The Canadian government just reaffirmed its designation in December. [12] [13]
  • An EU court removed the MEK from its list of terrorist organizations, but only due to procedural reasons.  According to a spokesperson for the Council of the European Union, the EU court “did not enter into the question of defining or not the PMOI [MEK] as a terrorist organization.” [14]

Saddam Hussein’s Terrorist Militia

  • The MEK received all of its military assistance and most of its financial support from Saddam Hussein, including funds illegally siphoned from the UN Oil-for-Food Program, until 2003. [15]
  • The MEK helped execute Saddam’s bloody crackdown on Iraqi Shia and Kurds. Maryam Rajavi, the MEK’s permanent leader, instructed her followers to “take the Kurds under your tanks.” [16]

A Cult That Abuses Its Own Members

  • Human Rights Watch reports that MEK commits extensive human rights abuses against its own members at Camp Ashraf, including “torture that in two cases led to death.” [17]
  • A RAND report commissioned by DOD found that the MEK is a cult that utilizes practices such as mandatory divorce, celibacy, authoritarian control, forced labor, sleep deprivation, physical abuse, confiscation of assets, emotional isolation, and the imprisonment of dissident members. [18]
  • RAND concluded that up to 70% of the MEK members at their Camp Ashraf headquarters were likely recruited through deception and are kept there against their will. [19]
  • The FBI reports that the MEK’s “NLA [National Liberation Army] fighters are separated from their children who are sent to Europe and brought up by the MEK’s Support Network. […] These children are then returned to the NLA to be used as fighters upon coming of age.  Interviews also revealed that some of these children were told that their parents would be harmed if the children did not cooperate with the MEK. ”[20]

A History of Anti-Americanism

  • One of the founding ideologies of the MEK is anti-Americanism—the MEK is responsible for murdering American businessmen, military personnel, and even a senior American diplomat. [21]
  • The MEK strongly supported the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, vigorously opposed their eventual release, and chastised the government for not executing the hostages. [22]

The MEK was Not “Added” to the FTO List as a Goodwill Gesture to Iran

Delisting MEK: Disastrous Repercussions

The MEK is opposed by the Iranian people due to its history of terrorist attacks against civilians in Iran and its close alliance with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.

  1. The greatest beneficiaries of delisting MEK would be Ahmadinejad and Iranian hardliners who seek to link the U.S. and the Green Movement to MEK.
  2. U.S. support for MEK would be used as a propaganda tool by hardliners to delegitimize and destroy Iran’s true democracy movement.
  3. American credibility among the Iranian people would be ruined if the U.S. supported this group.

Full citations below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »


MEK supporters brought to testify before Congress

July 7, 2011

Former U.S. officials have admitted to receiving cash to speak at pro-MEK conferences.  Now, officials who may be getting paid to publicly advocate in support of MEK (Mujahedin-e Khalq) are being invited to testify before Congress.

Today at 2pm, a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee is holding a hearing on the MEK in which three out of the four witnesses  have appeared at conferences to advocate for the MEK to be removed from the U.S. terror list.

[update: watch the hearing live here]

Among the officials is former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who flew to Paris last December to appear alongside MEK leader Maryam Rajavi and call for the U.S. to remove MEK from the terrorist list and start “offering all possible overt and covert support to the opposition.”

Interestingly, the only official testifying today who has not participated in pro-MEK events, Ray Takeyh, has been falsely smeared by MEK as being “pro-ayatollah” and “a leading figure of the pro-Iranian regime circles.”

Unfortunately, none of this comes as a surprise.  In fact, the Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and top members like Ted Poe (R-TX), are themselves avowed supporters of the MEK.  They even recently led a delegation to Iraq where they pushed the MEK agenda and promptly got themselves kicked out of the country.  The embarrassing incident prompted the U.S. Embassy in Iraq to publicly distance itself from Rohrabacher and his pals and explain the group did not speak for the U.S.

If only now somebody would step up to explain why the laws aren’t being enforced to prevent former officials from getting paid to appear alongside terrorist leaders like Maryam Rajavi.

To learn more about the MEK and its campaign of political pressure, visit www.MEKterror.com.


MEKterror.com

July 7, 2011

Yesterday, NIAC launched www.MEKterror.com, a resource for information on the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and to mobilize grassroots action to put an end to the MEK’s campaign of political pressure and intimidation in Washington.

Despite being designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Department—which is supposed to prevent terrorist groups from receiving material support from or coordinating activities with Americans—the MEK and its affiliates are doing just that.  They have been given a free hand to organize an unprecedented political and media blitz in Washington to pressure Congress and the State Department to remove MEK from the terror list.  Why are the laws not being enforced?

The decision on MEK’s terrorist listing will be coming from the State Department soon, likely in August.  We  need to make sure that decision is based on the facts, not manipulated by (likely illegal) political pressure.  We also need to make sure elected officials and policy makers are not fooled by the MEK into thinking they are supported by the Iranian people, Iran’s peaceful democracy movement, or the Iranian-American community.  So, we launched our campaign to provide factual information about the MEK and to organize grassroots action to ensure the voices of the Iranian-American community are accurately represented.

To help take action, please send a letter to U.S. government officials calling on them to enforce the law and explaining why Iranians and Iranian-Americans do not support MEK, despite the groups absurd claims.  For more information about why NIAC is engaging in this effort, what would be the ramifications of taking MEK off the terrorist list, and further ways you can support the campaign, visit www.MEKterror.com.


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