RISING FROM THE ASHES
EXODUS FROM IRAQ
Imprisoned in Camp Ashraf in Northern Iraq, the 3,500 Iranian dissidents, enemies of the fundamentalist clerical regime in Iran, were sitting ducks. The mullahs effectively controlled Iraq and the venally corrupt Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was their willing puppet. In 1988, under a fatwah from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, the mullahs had executed 30,000 members of the People’s Mojahedin of Iraq (PMOI)in an atrocity now actively under investigation by the UN. Khomenei’s successor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was not going to miss the opportunity to liquidate 3,500 PMOI supporters in Camp Ashraf. He ordered Maliki to mount repeated military assaults on the unarmed refugees, massacring dozens of men and women.
But Camp Ashraf was a sprawling compound and despite their best effort at annihilation, thousands of the dissidents were able to take cover from the bombs and bullets. The mullahs required a new tactic. They instructed Maliki to move the remaining refugees to a tiny, half square kilometre killing ground near Baghdad Airport, where they could be more easily slaughtered. Using threats and blackmail, Maliki persuaded the UN and their lickspittle special representative Martin Kobler to participate in the enforced exodus to the ironically named Camp Liberty, a muddy and dilapidated hellhole, where they were locked in and denied access even to basic medicines, fuel and food. Soon the rocket attacks began. Scud missiles rained down on the men and women in Camp Liberty. There was international political outrage, although rarely was there any mention of these atrocities in the western media.
Desperate approaches were made to EU Member States to rescue the PMOI refugees before they were wiped out, but all of them found excuses to turn their backs, favouring lucrative trade deals with Iran over the appalling abuse of human rights that was taking place on a daily basis under their noses. Under pressure from many PMOI supporters in America, President Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Tirana and persuaded the Albanian government to accept the PMOI refugees from Camp Liberty. On 15thMay 2013 the first airlift of 41 people from Camp Liberty took place. Airlifts continued until Sept 2016. 2,800 Ashrafis were evacuated in total from Camp Liberty to Tirana. Albania may be a tiny country, but its people have big hearts. Having suffered years of oppression under the communists, the Albanian government was united in its determination to offer a safe haven to the PMOI. Soon the surviving 2,800 PMOI members were safely housed in special accommodation in Tirana, paid for by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Alejo Vidal Quadras MEP & Struan Stevenson MEP on their first visit to Albania in April 2014
Although UNHCR had been given $19m by the US State Department (from John Kerry’s personal Secretary of State’s allowance), the funding quickly ran out. UNHCR had paid for the airlift of the Iranian dissidents from Iraq to Albania and also for the rental of various buildings in Tirana. They had not met other day to day food, clothing and medical expenses. Best estimates reckon that they spent no more than $6 million of the allocated funds for these purposes. Leading political figures from the US wondered where the rest of the $19m had gone!
Struan Stevenson’s second visit to the Ashrafis in Tirana in December 2016
In any case, in September 2017, notices were stuck on the windows of all the buildings occupied by the Ashrafis in Tirana in Farsi, English and Albanian, informing them that they had two days to leave the properties, as all UNHCR funding had ceased. The 2,500 Ashrafis had nowhere to go and winter was approaching. International political pressure provided a three-month extension, enabling the Ashrafis to purchase tents and hire caravans. They then negotiated to buy a large area of farmland near the village of Monza, 45 mins from Tirana. Because of complex land-ownership laws in Albania, the PMOI had to negotiate with over 400 individual family members for the purchase of the land. Only after they had obtained all of their signatures could work begin on the construction of their own permanent accommodation.
Miraculously, within 12 months they had completed the construction of a small city. Over 600 Albanians from, the local town of Manza in the Province of Durres, were trained by skilled PMOI constructors to help with the initial building work. Around 200 Albanian workers still enter the camp daily to help with the on-going construction. The PMOI leadership has borrowed millions to pay for this compound and international fund-raising efforts and a worldwide telethon are now underway to repay the loans.
Ashraf 3 – December 2018
There are now around 2,500 people in Ashraf 3 of which one third are women. The youngest person in Ashraf 3 is 22 and the oldest 73. Medical costs alone account for around $2.6m per year. Many of the Ashrafis who were airlifted from Iraq were suffering from serious wounds inflicted by the repeated rocket and military assaults on Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty and the results of the medical siege they had been forced to endure. Many are still suffering the consequences today. These people left Iraq with virtually nothing. Everything was stolen from them by the Iraqis. Now they have had to purchase laptops, mobile phones and all of their necessary living materials at huge cost in Albania. But they were free. Now they can concentrate their attention on regime change in Iran.
Of course, the mullahs were appalled at the airlift and the fact that the Ashrafis had been flown to safety in Albania. Their attempts to liquidate the PMOI had been thwarted. They could not allow these dissidents, who offer a democratic future of freedom and justice to the oppressed millions in Iran, to set up a new Ashraf, a new centre for opposition to their tyrannical regime. The formerly tiny Iranian embassy in Albania has now been transformed into one of the regime's largest embassies in the Balkans. In early 2016, as the PMOI dissidents were being transferred to Albania in groups, Tehran quickly sent a new ambassador, Gholam Hossein Mohammadinia, to Albania. Mohammadinia is a former high-ranking intelligence official and was also a member of the Iranian nuclear negotiating team before accepting his latest appointment in Albania. His main mandate in Tirana is to continue to implement the regime's malign plots against the PMOI.
Recently, another senior intelligence official, Mostafa Roodaki, has joined him as First Secretary. The cultural attaché of the embassy, Ahmad Hosseini Alast, is a senior official at the Organization for Islamic Culture and Communication, a major body responsible for the export of terrorism and fundamentalism. It has become quite clear that the main mission of the embassy and all its personnel is to conspire against the PMOI. The embassy has become the focus of an expanding nest of 25 intelligence agents and spies.
A campaign of demonization against the PMOI began. For this purpose, the mullahs focused their attention on elements of the Western media, manipulating their anti-Trump, anti-American, anti-Saudi Arabian agenda to encompass a smear campaign against the PMOI. The Iranian regime even reverted to acts of terrorism, using one of their diplomats from their embassy in Vienna to organise a bomb plot against a mass PMOI Rally in Paris in June 2018 and in October 2018, sending another diplomat to assassinate an opposition figure in Denmark. Both ‘so-called’ diplomats were arrested and are facing trial for acts of terror. As part of this policy the Iranian regime has set up official or unofficial intelligence and surveillance stations in the Balkans. In addition, the regime is trying to expand its influence in Albania by dispatching an unprecedented number of delegations under the guise of cultural or religious activities.
Massoud Khodabandeh and his wife, Anne Singleton, two well-known MOIS spies, identified as such in a Library of Congress and Pentagon Report, were flown in to Tirana several times. This pair of trained Iranian intelligence agents had been seen outside the gates of Ashraf and Camp liberty in Iraq before the lethal assaults took place, leaving a death toll of 168 dead and over 1,700 wounded men and women. Now they were prowling around the new compound being constructed by the Ashrafis near the town of Manza in the Albanian province of Durres. Sure enough, in due course, some gullible Western journalists were seen in their company.
Forced to leave their accommodation in Tirana in September 2017, the PMOI refugees had purchased some farmland near Manza and began the hurried construction of dormitory blocks and living accommodation. They hired over 600 local Albanians, training them in building and construction skills and quickly became a trusted and respected part of the Albanian community. The new compound, named Ashraf 3 was fenced in with security at the main entrance to deter assassination attempts. However, the PMOI men and women are free to come and go as they please. Hundreds of them leave the compound daily on shopping and recreation trips. Over 700 Iranian families have come to visit their relatives in Ashraf 3 during 2016-2018, having been prevented from seeing them for years during their brutal incarceration in Iraq. Journalists, politicians, lawyers and trades people are daily visitors.
I myself spent three days in the camp in November 2018 together with a high-level delegation of MEPs from Brussels, comprising Tunne Kelam MEP and Jaromir Stetina MEP, both members of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Jaromir Stetina is also Vice-Chair of the Security and Defence Committee. Their visit to Ashraf 3 came during a week in which 150 MEPs from all political factions and groups had signed a petition condemning human rights abuse in Iran.
Struan Stevenson, Mrs Maryam Rajavi, Tunne Kelam MEP & Jaromir Stetina MEP in Ashraf 3 November 2018
What we saw was a remarkable transformation. We were able to move freely around the camp, talking to hundreds of the Iranian refugees.
The EU delegation met hundreds of Ashrafis during their visit.
In only 12 months, these hard-working and resilient freedom fighters have constructed a small city, with shops, clinics, sports facilities, kitchens, bakeries, dormitory blocks, meeting halls, offices and studios. It is an amazing achievement by people who had faced almost certain death in Iraq and whose sole objective is to restore peace and freedom to their home country of Iran.
But the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence intends to paint a different picture. Encouraging naive journalists to skulk around the perimeter fence of Ashraf 3 and even to fly drones across the compound, the MOIS has fed the media with claims that the Americans have financed a massive military complex with helipads and shooting ranges to train these dangerous Iranian guerrillas. They say that Ashraf 3 is a prison, where no-one can leave without permission from the hard-line leadership and where even basic freedoms are denied. They claim that defectors are tortured and even murdered. It is an absurdity.
In a deceitful story that they repeat endlessly, they claim that a young woman, 38-year-old Sommaya Mohammadi, is being held captive against her will. Her parents, both Iranian/Canadian citizens, have in the past been seen outside Camp Ashraf in Iraq, hurling threats and abuse through loudspeakers, in the company of Khodabandeh and Singleton and other notorious MOIS agents. Together with the delegation of leading MEPs, I met Sommaya Mohammadi on my visit to Ashraf 3. She was alone and unaccompanied by the ‘minders’ that her father claims always accompany her.
She said that sadly she had disowned her father many years ago after he became a willing MOIS agent. She told us that her father, who is a plumber in Canada, recently spent 4 months in Albania, staying in the luxury Plaza Hotel in Tirana, clearly paid for by the mullahs. She confirmed that she is free to come and go from Ashraf 3 whenever she wishes and that she could leave permanently if she wanted to. However, she said she is a proud and committed member of the PMOI, who, unlike her father, has devoted her life to seeking freedom for the people of Iran.
Sommaya Mohammadi with Struan Stevenson in Tirana
Sommaya Mohammadi joined the PMOI at the age of 18 with the signed approval of both of her parents and has remained a stalwart supporter for the past two decades. Due to her father’s false allegations when he was brought to Albania by the mullah’s, the Public Prosecutor of Durres investigated the case, interviewed Ms Mohammadi and rejected her father’s claim that she had been held against her will by the PMOI. Her father, Mustafa Mohammadi had made similar claims back in Iraq, when Ms Mohammadi was in Camp Ashraf and then Camp Liberty. His claims were investigated by the Iraqi judiciary, who despite being hostile to the PMOI, also rejected his claim that she had been kidnapped and held against her will by the PMOI. Even the Canadian Embassy in Tirana, interviewed her and also said she was a free agent.
The PMOI are proud of Sommaya Mohammadi. She has resisted all bullying and threats by her family to make her leave the PMOI. In 2015 the Iranian regime made a movie about her, which was filled with lies. It was screened several times on Iranian TV. They featured her father extensively and photos of her as a child that he had provided. She was deeply ashamed of her father for allowing this appalling intrusion of her childhood to serve the mullah’s evil propaganda machine. Sommaya explained that her father has done all of these things willingly. He is not under pressure from the mullah’s regime. He lives in Canada and as a Canadian citizen is free to make his own choices. Sommaya has even written a book detailing her side of the story.
I also met Sommaya Mohammadi’s lawyer in Albania. Margarita Kola is a renowned barrister and an expert on international law. She is also a leading figure in Albania’s International Society for Human Rights and a formidable figure. She told me that she had just returned from a 3-week visit to refugee camps in Northern Iraq, where Syrians who have fled from the bloody civil war are housed. While she was in Northern Iraq she began to receive threatening emails from Khodabandeh. She had no idea how the MOIS had found her email and appeared to know that she was in Iraq. Margarita Kola said that her husband had also been followed by Khodabandeh in Tirana. She said that this threatening behaviour was clearly designed to frighten her away from representing Sommaya Mohammadi, but in fact it has made her more determined than ever.
It is regrettable that Khodabandeh and Singleton are permitted to enter Albania as known MOIS agents. However, they live in London and have UK passports, so the Albanian authorities can do little to deter them. Anne Singleton even held a press conference in Tirana during one of her visits and claimed that she has worked for the British government as an anti-terrorist expert for 20 years. Such claims, if untrue, are clearly actionable and the UK authorities should carry out a full investigation into the clandestine activities of this dangerous couple.
The MOIS has managed to make some friends inside the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They invite Albanian politicians, ministers and journalists to visit Tehran. They also concentrate their attention on turning dropouts from Ashraf 3 against their former colleagues. They have team of agents constantly trying to approach Ashrafis who have left the camp for recreational purposes or to visit shops. When a TV crew of four people were challenged for filming Ashraf 3, they all claimed to be British. But when the Albanian police questioned them, three turned out to be Albanian, only the woman leading the team was actually from the UK. It is a well-established fact that he mullahs pay some Albanian TV channels to attack the PMOI. But it now seems they may also have extended their largesse to pay journalists from the EU.
The mullah’s propaganda machine has also nosedived into the gutter with a lie that has sought to portray an awful tragedy as a murder. During the heatwave in Albania on 19thJune, 2018, 25 Ashrafis went to a nearby lake to relax. Some decided to swim. Others were rowing across the lake in a small boat. Suddenly, one of the swimmers started to shout for help. He was drowning. Malik, who was a good swimmer and a courageous young man, ran 60 metres along the beach, then jumped into the water and swam out to save his friend who by now had disappeared under the surface. Malik managed to grab him and pushed him up to the surface. Others then threw a lifejacket from the shore and he was rescued. But Malik went under and didn’t come up again. He drowned trying to rescue his friend. Other Ashrafis searched desperately for Malik, some diving down 8 metres to look for him, but to no avail.
His friends raised the alarm and mounted a search for three hours. Police arrived and police divers began to search for the body. They continued to search for 13 days and finally found Malik’s body on the bottom, in soft mud. They reported that there were no injuries on the body. It was clear that Malik had drowned, possibly after suffering heart failure caused by cold water shock. The police in Manaz took statements from all the Ashrafi witnesses. Following a post mortem examination,a forensic scientist and the official coroner ruled that he had drowned.
I spoke to a key witness from Ashraf 3 called Rahim, who was the organizer of the outing to the lake on that fateful day and witnessed what had happened. He told me that Malik was a very popular member of the Ashrafi community. He was a young man and indeed was one of the brave survivors of the terrible massacre in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, when 52 Ashrafi men and women were summarily executed and 7 were kidnapped and never seen again, out of 100 Ashrafis who had remained behind in the camp to protect their belongings. Malik had been wounded that day. The Ashrafis were stunned and outraged when Masoud Khodabandeh and Anne Singleton, the MOIS agents, told British journalists that Malik had been murdered by the Ashrafis for attempting to defect. It was a shocking lie and a cruel insult to the memory of such a devoted and brave freedom fighter.
But the mullahs have a history of making these disgraceful claims in an attempt to demonise the PMOI. Usually such claims are made before some outrage is perpetrated by the MOIS, so that public sympathy can be deflected. Even more ominously, Khodabandeh and Singleton’s claims that the PMOI is planning to murder its own defectors and blame the Iranians, could be a precursor to a terrorist atrocity being actively planned by the MOIS. They have attempted a terrorist attack before in Albania. At the Nowruz festivities in the Spring of 2018, the Albanian security service arrested two Iranians who were preparing to drive a car bomb to the Ashraf compound in Tirana. They were expelled and sent back to Iran.
It is for me a great sadness that there are journalists today who ignore the truth, preferring instead to abuse and traduce men and women who have given up their professional careers and family life to devote themselves to the cause of ending oppression and tyranny in Iran. The mullahs know that their days are numbered. They have blamed the nationwide uprising that continues in Iran on the PMOI and it is therefore no surprise that they have embarked on such a frenetic campaign of misinformation. But no-one will be fooled. When this evil dictatorship in toppled, history will record the names of those journalists who played this dishonest game in a roll call of shame.
A NEW CITY IS BORN
Ashraf 3, which has risen from the ashes of Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty in Iraq, is the main base for the PMOI. It is the home for 2,500 political exiles and the centre of their movement. It is a source of inspiration for the political dissidents in Iran. The construction of this small city within 12 months is an astonishing tribute to the skill and resilience of these hard-working and dedicated Iranian dissidents.
The hilly farmland that they purchased in September 2017 near the town of Manza, in the Province of Durres, around 45 minutes’ drive from Tirana, had no services and no infrastructure. The Ashrafis had to pipe a supply of water from 12km distance, installing a complex pumping, purification and storage system to provide Ashraf 3 with a constant supply of clean, potable water.
Struan Stevenson with the skilled engineers who designed the water system for Ashraf 3.
A complex electrical system had to be installed as well, linking Ashraf 3 to the Albanian grid. Initial construction began during the winter months of 2017/2018, when constant rain had turned conditions into a sea of mud. But Mrs Rajavi herself toured the site constantly, urging her people on, reminding them of the need to hurry to provide safe accommodation for all of the 2,500 men and women. Gradually, large meeting halls, accommodation blocks, clinics, dormitories, shops, kitchens, bakeries and sports facilities, rose across the landscape. A network of roads, landscaped areas, flower beds, paths and fountains transformed the area into a modern city.
One of the bakeries in Ashraf 3
There is a clinic with 21 beds for men and 12 for women. It has X-Ray and scanning rooms, pharmacies, consulting rooms and everything a modern clinic requires. There are 20 doctors. The doctors told me that in Iraq they had come under attack no fewer than 29 times in Ashraf & Liberty, resulting in 168 martyrs and 1700 wounded. 7 men and women who were kidnapped in Camp Ashraf have never been seen again. Their fate remains a mystery. A further 28 Ashrafis died because of the medical blockade imposed by the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his leading henchman Falih al-Fayadh, who has now been proposed as the new Iraqi Interior Minister. These people must one day be held accountable for their murderous actions and brought before the international courts to face charges of crimes against humanity.
The Ashrafi doctors informed me that in the years since they came to Albania, they were faced with many serious illnesses from untreated wounds and chronic sickness caused by the medical siege in Iraq. So far this has led to 719 surgical operations being carried out in Albania, 440 in 2017 and by late November 2018, 279 operations. These were mostly carried out in the Mother Theresa Hospital in Tirana, although some were in the American hospital and other private hospitals. The cost of such surgeries is enormous. In 2017 they cost $693,147. So far in 2018, $600,000.
Struan visiting physiotherapy patients in the Ashraf 3 clinic.
The doctors told me that since they first came to Albania in 2014, they have paid the American hospital over $1m in 4 years. Expenditure for all medical equipment installed in the clinic in Ashraf 3 is €390,733. The doctors told me that they had undertaken 30,943 medical appointments in the last 2 years. 15,982 in 2017 and 14,961 in 2018. There have been 21,149 appointments in the clinic for opticians, radiology, MRI, CT scan, X-rays and general para-clinic investigations over the past 2 years. These can be broken down as 7,156 appointments for women and 7,815 appointments for men. For para-clinic appointments the breakdown is 5,991 for women in 2018 and 8,323 for men. Costs of medical appointments in Tirana in 2017 was $407,267. In 2018 so far over it is over $500,000. The Ashrafis keep meticulous records of every cent that is spent, in order that they can show donors exactly where their donations are going. But the costs are spiralling and the Ashrafis’ reliance on the generosity of donors worldwide is increasing.
Struan with the senior dental surgeon in Ashraf 3
In the dental clinic, the senior dental surgeon was bursting with pride as he showed me around the astonishingly modern facilities, which includes 5 dental units, of which four are for men and 1 is for women. The senior dental surgeon has trained 2 other dentists and 6 technicians. He told me that in 2017, one quarter of all the necessary dental work had to be done by Albanian dentists in Tirana. Now, he is capable of doing virtually all of the dental work in Ashraf 3. The cost of dental surgery over the last 2 years amounted to $300,000. However, he assured me that had the work all been carried out by Albanian dentists, the costs would have soared to $1.5 million. He is keen to begin providing dental implants and may even offer dental treatment to local Albanians soon.
CHAOS IN IRAN
The 2,500 Ashrafis have set up a series of computer rooms, TV studios and offices, where they can monitor and comment on the unfolding chaos in Iran.
Struan in one of the studios in Ashraf 3
Nationwide protests have gone on since December 2017. Since January 2018 until now, 8,952 protests have taken place all over Iran. On average 813 protests occur every month, which is unprecedented, especially where those taking part face arrest, torture and execution. The people have lost their fear. There have been 1,664 factory workers protests up to the end of November, 2018 and at least four rounds of protests involving truck drivers, with no fewer than 4,000 protests, motivated by the 600,000 drivers. Half of the Iranian truck drivers own their own trucks. The remainder are paid drivers. But all of them want to be paid by international standards for the goods they carry. They are also paid in rials, the collapsing Iranian currency, but charged for diesel, repairs, tyres etc in dollars. It has created a vicious circle, where they are now actively losing money on a daily basis.
Payments for the loads they carry haven’t changed for two years, despite inflation currently at 70%. They are running at a loss. The truck fleet is old and although the government has promised for the past 5 years that they would renew the fleet, nothing has been done. The dilapidated vehicles cause many accidents and the tragic death of drivers. Even after 35-40 years driving they will receive less than $100 per month. In Iran today, a simple breakfast comprising bread, cheese, tea and milk will cost $4, so $100 per month is below the poverty line and unsustainable.
But instead of addressing the problem and paying the drivers an liveable wage, the mullahs have decided to crack down brutally on the strikers. Drivers have been arrested and charged with obstructing communication on roads and throwing stones at trucks driven by IRGC strike-breakers. The mullahs say this is an attack on national security and so far at least 6 truck drivers have been sentenced to death. A further 4 truck drivers in Isfahan have been charged with throwing stones at IRGC strike-breakers, although they were actually protesting inside a factory and not even on the road. Each has been sentenced to 15 years jail, to scare the others. But these ongoing strikes can cripple the Iranian economy. Many factories have shut down. Three different government ministries have been ordered to deal with the situation, but inevitably all pass the buck to each other, increasing the chaos. It is clear that so long as the IRGC and Khamenei are in charge, all resources will continue to go to terrorism. The Iranian public are very sympathetic to the truck drivers. Recent strikes have been joined by many students, merchants, shopkeepers, teachers etc.
Other protest have been dealt with equally harshly by the mullahs. Sugarcane workers in Shoosh have not been paid for 6 months. Nevertheless, instead of agreeing to pay them, the mullahs have ordered representatives of the strikers to be jailed and flogged. In the summer, the regime tried to kill one of the sugarcane workers’ leaders – Esmail Bakshi - in a faked car accident. He was badly injured. But he recovered and addressed another recent protest. He was dragged away by the IRGC and is still in prison. From his prison cell he told the strikers: “If they kill me, bring my corpse to the next protest and I will still cry for justice.”
People are now less afraid. Unlike 2009, the current protests involve workers and the lower classes, together with the middle classes, including teachers, shopkeepers etc. The main targets of the protesters’ slogans are directed at Khamenei and Rouhani. There are no longer any disputes between the so-called hardliners and moderates in government, despite repeated stories in the Western press that appears to be beguiled by this myth. Now the protests have a political focus. Protesters attack offices of Friday prayers, offices of the brutal Basij, the security police and the city council authorities.
So far, at least 12,000 protesters have been arrested. Some prison wards set up to hold 100 prisoners, now contain 500. Food shortages mean that prisoners are often given only 6 spoonfuls of rice for a meal. The mullahs have continued to blame the PMOI for the nationwide protests, as a basis for repressive retaliation measures. There is, of course, some justification in the mullah’s claims. Some 25,000 former PMOI political prisoners who have served their prison terms and been released, are now in Tehran. They have taken up active roles in the protests against the regime.
A new phenomenon, PMOI resistance units, are increasingly appearing in towns and cities across Iran. There has been a big increase in their numbers. In 22 provinces and 65 cities they are now present. They achieve a great deal of publicity for the PMOI. They also boost the morale of the people by attacking the posters of Khamenei and setting fire to the offices of the hated Basij. The Basij forces have become very afraid of these resistance units. They are mostly comprised of young people who, despite being ordinary members of their community, have organised themselves into small, underground teams numbering 2 to 5. The mullahs’ regime has become extremely sensitive about these resistance units, even producing TV clips to scare the public. Hundreds of people have been arrested and some sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. One unit in Ahwaz put up a big poster of Mrs Rajavi. The regime’s security forces followed them and shot one in the back. He died. In other cities, young resistance fighters have been sentenced to 8 to 16 years imprisonment.
There are increasing examples emerging of security officials and police, fed up with their poor pay and rising inflation, having sympathy with the protesters and releasing some of those detained without charge. There are even instances of low ranking IRGC personnel who have not been paid for weeks, joining the protesters. The tipping point is approaching where the regime will no longer be able to use repression and violence to control the seething masses.
In October 2018 the US State Department published a 48-page report entitled “OUTLAW REGIME: A Chronicle of Iran’s Destructive Activities.” In a foreword, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained why President Trump had decided to withdraw from Obama’s nuclear deal, calling it: “a failed strategic bet that fell short of protecting the American people or our allies from the potential of an Iranian nuclear weapon.” He pointed out that Barack Obama’s deal had “plainly failed to contribute to regional and international peace and security.” In fact, he said: “Iran’s destabilizing behavior has grown bolder under the deal.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
In explosive comments, Mike Pompeo went on to list some of the Iranian regime’s ‘destructive activities’ covered by the report. He said: “The Islamic Republic of Iran is not a normal state. Normal states do not attack embassies and military installations in peacetime; fuel terrorist proxies and militias; serve as a sanctuary for terrorists; call for the destruction of Israel and threaten other countries; aid brutal dictators such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad; proliferate missile technology to dangerous proxies; conduct covert assassinations in other countries; and hold hostage citizens of foreign nations. Normal states do not support terrorism within their armed forces, as Iran has done with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Qods Force. Normal states do not abuse the international financial system and use commercial industry to fund and support terrorism. Normal states do not squander their own natural resources. Normal states do not violently suppress legitimate protests, jail their own citizens or those of other countries on specious crimes, engage in torture, and impose severe restrictions on basic freedoms.”
The report makes for interesting reading.It points out how Iran trained and deployed Shiia fighters from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to help Assad crack down on innocent civilians in Syria. It reveals how Iran’s Central Bank Governor has allowed the movement of millions of dollars through banks to support the Qods Force and Hezbollah. It shows how hundreds of universities around the world fell victim to an IRGC-led cyberattack that resulted in the theft of intellectual property. It reminds us that public executions, including of children, are still common in Iran, and citizens are routinely subjected to unfair trials where confessions extracted by torture are often the only evidence allowed. Pompeo concludes that the international community does not stand for this type of behaviour from any state, and he says we should not make an exception for Iran.
Of course, many of us have been aware of these destructive activities by the Iranian regime for decades.What is interesting here is that these crimes should now be comprehensively listed in an official US State Department report. Clearly, the days of appeasement are over as far as America is concerned. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case in Europe, where the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, is a frequent visitor to Tehran, where she pays homage to the ayatollahs, on a recent occasion even donning a headscarf to offer submission to the clerical regime’s misogyny, then posing for selfies with the mullahs.
EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini with Mohammad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, in Tehran
Now Mogherini is engaged in an operation to find ways of compensating Iran for the sanctions that have been re-imposed by Trump, in the hope that this will enable European business and industry to continue to sign lucrative contracts with the Iranians.
Mrs Mogherini chooses to ignore the fact that on30thJune 2018, German police arrested Assadollah Assadi, a diplomat from the Iranian Embassy in Vienna, and charged him with terrorist offences. On the same day Belgian police arrested an Iranian couple from Antwerp after 500 gm of high explosives and a detonator were found in their car. They admitted Assadi had given them the bomb and instructed them to detonate it at the Iranian democratic opposition rally being held in Villepinte, near Paris that weekend, attended by hundreds of political leaders including Rudy Giulliani and Newt Gingrich. I was there.
The mullahs have Ministry of Intelligence & Security (MOIS) agents implanted in every European embassy. Their job is to track down and eliminate political dissidents or enemies of the fundamentalist regime. Assadollah Assadi was one of these trained MOIS agents. He was ordered by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and by the regime’s President Rouhani, to carry out the indiscriminate terrorist bomb attack, which would have killed and maimed EU citizens. President Macron of France has declared his outrage at this attempted terrorist atrocity on French soil and has imposed sanctions on Iran. In November 2018 Danish police arrested an MOIS agent and accused him of plotting to assassinate a leading Iranian opposition figure in Denmark. But despite these repeated attempts to commit atrocities on European soil, Mrs Mogherini thinks that a regime which sponsors acts of terror in Europe should be regarded as a friend and trading partner. Well I beg to disagree!
Iran, despite its rich, civilised and open culture, has now become an international pariah, its religious fascist regime condemned for human rights abuse and the export of terror, while its 80 million beleaguered citizens, over half of whom are under thirty, struggle to feed their families against a background of power outages, water shortages and food prices that have risen by more than 50%. Since the second tranche of US sanctions affecting oil and banking came into effect on 5thNovember, Iran is now producing 1m fewer barrels of oil a day. It has cost the Iranian economy $2 bn since November 5th2018. But the mullahs continue to fund terrorism.
Iran’s descent into economic chaos can be traced directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani. Their policy of aggressive military expansionism across the Middle East has seen them consistently pour men and resources into Bashar al-Assad’s murderous civil war, the genocidal campaign against the Sunni population of neighbouring Iraq, their support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen and their vast funding for the Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. They currently pay $750m p.a. to Hezbollah in Lebanon alone. This is clearly no longer sustainable.
Combined with the mullah’s predilection for corruptly lining their own pockets, it is little surprise that the country with the world’s second largest gas reserves and fourth largest crude oil reserves is now facing economic meltdown and nationwide protests. Of course, the mullahs have tried to plead for international sympathy by claiming that the US sanctions are affecting the supply of food and medicines to the Iranian population. But Rouhani himself gave the game away in a speech on 10thNovember, when he admitted that the sanctions have not affected the supply of food and medicine. It is the mullahs’ own corruption and repression that has created the crisis in Iran.
The so-called ‘moderate’ President Rouhani has presided over a brutal offensive on the protesters, sending in the regime’s Gestapo, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), who have gunned down dozens in the streets and arrested over 12,000 protesters, many of whom have been tortured to death in prison. Striking truck drivers have been sentenced to death. Environmental campaigners have been sentenced to death and one was recently murdered. Workers from Hepco, the Iranian company that provides heavy road construction equipment, have been sentenced to flogging and long prison terms for taking part in the protests.
Rouhani’s government claims to represent God’s will on earth, yet regards women as second-class citizens, hangs people in public, condones torture, arbitrary imprisonment, eye-gouging, stoning, whipping and amputation. Amnesty International last August published a 94-page report entitled “Caught in a web of repression: Iran’s human rights defenders under attack.” It detailed 45 specific instances of what the organization described as a “vicious crackdown”.
Indeed, the UN now has irrefutable proof thatin 1988, when Rouhani was deputy military commander and a senior government figure, the regime coordinated the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in prisons across Iran, an atrocity that must rank as one of the worst crimes against humanity of the late twentieth century. The mass executions were carried out on the basis of a fatwa by the regime’s then-Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. A ‘Death Committee’ of four senior officials approved all the executions, which Rouhani would certainly have been aware of.
Nevertheless, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, a member of that ‘Death Committee’, was until mid-2017 President Rouhani’s Justice Minister. When his part in the murders became known publicly and he even admitted and boasted about his role, he was replaced by Alireza Avaie, who himself was a prominent executioner during the 1988 massacre. Avaie has been on the EU’s terrorist blacklist for years. How is it possible to describe Rouhani as a moderate and reformist, when he appoints known terrorists and executioners as his Justice Ministers?
As the arrests and violent repression continue, the international community must not remain silent. The United Nations Security Council must adopt punitive measures against the regime. They must hold to account the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, most of whom were supporters of the PMOI. Many of these murderers are still in positions of power in Iran today. The international community must demand the release of the thousands of protesters arrested during the on-going uprisings and issue strong warnings against any torture or execution of these prisoners. They must demand the restoration of full and unhindered access to the internet for the Iranian public and importantly, they must express solidarity with the Iranian people in their bid for democratic change.
It is astounding to me that with all of these atrocities, human rights abuse, proxy wars, sponsorship of international terror and dictatorial repression in Iran, we still see limited coverage in the press and what we do see is often on the side of appeasement and what the appeasers call “constructive dialogue” with the fascist clerical regime. Those who advocate this kind of “quiet, calculated diplomatic pressure’ in our dealings with Iran, should remember the catastrophic appeasement policy of Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain’s softly-softly approach simply encouraged Hitler to go to war. Similarly, Obama’s Iran policy encouraged the regime to export its terrorism and aggressive meddling throughout the Middle East.
It is worth noting that the UN has now tabled its 65thcondemnation of Iran’s human rights record. Why is that not mentioned in the press? There is only one way to stop the current wars and conflicts in the region; adopting a firm line with the Iranian regime and supporting the popular uprising and the democratic opposition, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran.
HOW THE IRGC HAS DESTROYED THE IRANIAN ECONOMY
There are two fundamental rules in the Iranian constitution. Rule 110 has 12 clauses. Competence to appoint MPs and candidates for the Presidency are all contained within rule 110. Anyone who does not have faith in the Supreme Leader will never be allowed to become a candidate. All dissent has been crushed by this rule. This is not democracy. It is the opposite. Also, the Constitution calls for the spread of the Islamic revolution, enabling the mullahs to interfere in foreign countries in the zone and indeed, throughout the world. The mullahs do not recognize borders. Rule 45 states that all public belongings, mines, seas, rivers, land, forests, mountains etc are all under the control of the Supreme Leader. So rule 45 and rule 110, together guarantee continued repression and astronomical corruption.
Iran’s monetary and financial institutions are in the hands of the regime’s leaders. On 28t Feb 1979, the regime established the Foundation of the Underprivileged. In 1979, 28 private banks and industries covering steel, aluminium and vehicles were all confiscated by the State, together with the properties of all of the biggest businessmen, who were the backbone of the Iranian economy. All were nationalised and handed over to Khomenei. The policy for the Iranian currency and monetary affairs are all controlled by the regime’s leaders. The rial has two different rates, the official rate and the black-market rate. The difference between the two rates enabled the government to make massive financial gains. In the first ten years of Khomenei’s rule, the blackmarket rate for the US dollar was seven times higher than the official rate, but only the regime’s leaders could purchase dollars. Merchants approved by the regime could borrow $1 million to purchase equipment and then sell the products for $7 million. $1 on the official market was worth 60 rials. But in the blackmarket was worth 1,400 rials. This system wrecked the free market as only the regime’s leaders were able to trade in this corrupt way. As a result, all business gradually withered and died.
In 2013, a foundation belonging to Ali Khamenei was valued at $95 bn. There are 37 businesses contained within his foundation. All foundations like this get their funding from the government. They don’t pay tax and they have no accountability on how they spend their money. The seven foundations in Iran receive $2 bn from the government annually. During Ahmadinejad’s rule, 60% of the Iranian budget was spent on these foundations. The IRGC also has a tight grip on these foundations. In 1993, these IRGC foundations were exempted from paying tax. They were allowed from 1994 to begin city building and constructing road infrastructures. The deputy commander of the Garrison of Construction, Hassan Zolbaderniah, is responsible for building dams, irrigation systems, ports, small ships used for smuggling etc. Iran has used these construction companies run by the IRGC to spread the Islamic revolution by infiltrating other countries in the Middle East. These IRGC construction companies also run missile factories.
There are currently 812 registered businesses in Iran under IRGC control. 70% of all Iranian ports have been built by the Construction Garrison, run by the IRGC. In July 2007, part of a petrochemical company in Arak, plus other large steel companies, were handed over to the IRGC. The IRGC’s stranglehold on the Iranian economy has been disastrous. There are 75,000 unfinished construction projects in Iran. Money is allocated annually, but never spent on these projects. The regime owes 25 trillion rials to contractors = $150 bn. So, the government has been held hostage by the IRGC for years because of these escalating debts. The IRGC has conducted massive smuggling through all the ports they own. In 2004, 150 bn rials’ worth of smuggled goods was found in a single airport belonging to the IRGC.
Also the devastation of Iran’s of Iran’s production capabilities has been massive. 38 cotton companies closed down last year. Under the Shah there were 273,000 tonnes of cotton produced annually in Iran. 20 years later, in 1994, that figures has dropped to 60,000 tonnes. 1,000 factory units building fridges, TVs, textiles etc have all closed down. Mass unemployment has been the inevitable result. There are 1.2 million more unemployed people in Iran every year, mostly young people. The regime’s own statistics say the average monthly wage of a worker today is only enough to last for one week. People are now selling their organs, kidneys, bone marrow etc to try to avoid starvation. A newspaper in 2011 wrote that many young people including girls are selling their kidneys. 20,000 people are sleeping rough in Tehran of which 5,000 are women.
The IMF said this year that Iran would have 1.5% negative growth. They predict 3.6% negative growth in 2019 and a decrease of $97bn in GDP. The Iranian oil economy has been worth $2000 bn revenue over the past 40 years since the 1979 revolution. At the time of the revolution in 1979 Iran had a bigger economy than South Korea and Turkey combined. Now they are behind North Korea and worth only half of Turkey in economic terms. Average developing countries growth has been 12-15%, but Iran has averaged only 2.1%.
So, the regimes system of velayat-e-faqih offers no solution to the economic crisis. The whole Iranian economy is focused on the military requirements of the IRGC. Iranian society is now facing chaos. The capacity of the regime to reform the economy is no longer there. Instead, the mullahs turn their attention to demonizing the PMOI to hide the reality of their economic mismanagement. That is why the protesters can be heard shouting “Death to this deceiving government.”
CYBER WARS & FAKE NEWS
With the introduction of the final phase of tough, new US sanctions on Iran, targeting oil exports, shipping and financial transactions, the clerical regime is now in blind panic. Human Rights Monitor (HRM) has reported an increase in executions, repression and human rights abuse as the mullah’s try desperately to contain the growing unrest that has seen nationwide protests continue for almost a year. According to HRM there were at least 22 executions in October 2018, including a woman who was only 17 years old at the time of her alleged crime. They also report arbitrary murders, deaths in custody, inhuman treatment, cruel punishments, appalling prison conditions and the continued persecution of religious minorities.
With a collapsing economy, massive unemployment and a growing recognition among the young and well-educated Iranian population that Iran’s vast oil resources have been systematically misused to enrich the mullahs and to finance proxy wars across the Middle East, the nationwide protests are now moving relentlessly towards a new revolution and the inevitable overthrow of the clerical fascist regime. Desperate to cling to power, the mullahs have ramped up repression and turned to the exploitation of cyberwarfare to spread propaganda, influence events, shape foreign perceptions and counter perceived threats. The US State Department says: “The Islamic Republic has developed its cyber capabilities with the intent to surveil and sabotage its adversaries, undermining international norms and threatening international stability.”
In September 2018, Twitter closed 770 accounts run by the Iranian regime, declaring them false accounts for government propaganda and for disseminating fake news and lies. At the same time, Facebook, Instagram and Google closed similar accounts related to the regime. On October 17, 2018, Twitter published content associated with these 770 accounts, amounting to 1,122,936 tweets, along with embedded photos and videos.Amongst these tweets were hundreds that had been disseminated widely by Iran’s MOIS in the days before the NCRI/PMOI annual rally in Paris in June, 2018, which always attracts a massive crowd of more than 100,000 ex-patriot Iranians opposed the mullah’s regime. Typical were tweets such as:
- We condemn that french government is hosting MKO #NoToMKO #TrumpSupportsTerrorism#GiulianiSupportsTerrorism #BanTerrorOrg https://t.co/ZFwc4vbJVd
- Mr president @EmmanuelMacron the so called #MEK group whch has carried out numerous #terrorist activities in Iran,which has acted as mercenaries of Saddam Hussein and killed thousands of Iraqi Shiites and Iraqi Kurd is living freely in your countryexpel them please #BanTerrorOrg
The tactic of using social media to soften public opinion and sow seeds of doubt about the NCRI/PMOI as a prelude to a terrorist attack was highlighted when on 30thJune this year German police arrested Assadollah Assadi, a diplomat from the Iranian Embassy in Vienna, and charged him with plotting to bomb the annual PMOI/NCRI Rally in Villepinte near Paris.
Despite such outrages, there are still appeasers in Western political circles who are prepared to close their eyes to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s human rights abuse, aggressive military expansionism, sponsorship of terrorism and cyberwarfare. They believe that ‘constructive dialogue’ with one of the world’s most evil regimes is preferable to taking a firm line and demanding that Iran behaves like, in the words of Mike Pompeo, ‘a normal state’. The political appeasers have their willing media cohorts, who naively lap up every shred of misinformation about the Iranian opposition and every iota of propaganda about the regime. These ‘useful idiots’ crop up repeatedly in newspapers, radio and television in the EU and America, echoing their predecessors who trod a similar dishonourable path during the rise of the Nazis and the oppression of the Soviet Union.
The mullahs focus on Albania has included establishing cultural institutions to spread their fundamentalist ideology and undermine the presence of the. Tehran’s efforts in Albania include establishing the Sa’adi College to spread its fundamentalist culture. This institution is supervised by the cultural office of the Iranian embassy in Tirana, directed by a mullah by the name of Ahadollah Gholizadeh. Two organizations run directly by the Iranian regime, the Islamic Culture and Communications Organization and the al-Mustafa Society, which both fall under the control of the office of the regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, run the propaganda campaign in Albania, using assets channelled to Albania under the guise of diplomatic activities.
Abdul-Ali Asgari, head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and Mohammad Akhgari, deputy chair of IRIB international affairs, launched a new news network dubbed ‘Pars Today’ on July 5th 2017, currently chaired by Behruz Ghazalpash. ‘Pars Today’ began its activities by launching ‘Parrena’, an Albanian-language website. Its goal is to spread misinformation against members of the PMOI. The website is run by Amir Eshkurti, who in 2017 visited Tehran together with an Albanian state news and radio delegation. The husband of Anne Singleton, the infamous MOIS agent Massoud Khodabandeh, conducted an interview attacking the PMOI with the ‘Impact’ website, which was published in Albanian. ‘Pars Today’ immediately republished the story.
The identity of dozens of the Iranian regime’s intelligence agents in other countries, have also been unveiled, along with their activities. Many of them work as “Iranian experts”. They have been ordered to focus attacks and surveillance activities on Iranian opposition members in Albania. The regime’s on-going misinformation campaign against its main democratic opposition movement is now very much focused on Albania.On 12 February 2018 the Iranian regime bought a slot in a TV programme in the Top Channel News in Albania. This was a totally biased programme in which they broadcast an interview with three agents of the Ministry of Intelligence and the terrorist Quds Force under the name of former members of the opposition, PMOI, throwing false accusations at the movement. Such lies and misinformation are aimed to pave the way for terrorist actions against the PMOI and the Iranian refugees. These three agents were fully briefed by Anne Singleton during one of her trips to Albania.
A memorial ceremony in Tehran to commemorate the renowned Albanian poet Naim Frashëri (1846-1900), has been reported in the Iranian state media, raising questions how a regime, which frequently jails poets and writers or forces them to flee into exile, has suddenly re-discovered its cultural soul. However, on closer examination it can be seen that many of the participants in the ceremony were members of the Nejat Association, a branch of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS), with a declared mandate to demonize and dismantle the main democratic opposition, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI); others attending the Tehran ceremony were described by Iran’s state media as journalists, educators and academics from Albania and other Balkan countries.
A NEW CITY IS BORN
The miracle of Ashraf 3 should send a cry of victory to the oppressed millions in Iran and a shudder of despair to the fascist mullahs. With my close friends Tunne Kelam from Estonia and Jaromir Stetina from the Czech Republic, we were able to tour the new city and admire its gardens, fountains and impressive new buildings during our November 2018 visit. We met hundreds of Ashrafis and their charismatic leader Mrs Maryam Rajavi. They have quickly developed this city as a new home and centre for their activities as the main democratic opposition to the mullah’s clerical regime. Yet they regard Ashraf 3 as only a temporary home. They are ready at a moment’s notice, whenever they receive news of the toppling of the regime in Tehran, to abandon their Albanian home and return to their homeland to lead the campaign of reconstruction and freedom.
Struan with some of the constructors in Ashraf 3
Of course, with signs that the fall of the clerical regime is imminent, the Ashrafis are excited about seeing their homeland again, sometime for the first time in decades. But they will never forget the hospitality of their Albanian friends. When I was there we addressed a meeting attended by over 600 Albanians who are friends and supporters of the Ashrafis. We were joined by two members of the Albanian parliament and the meeting was chaired by a former senior MP.
Struan, Tunne & Jaromir at a mass meeting of Albanians in Ashraf 3 on 25 November 2018.
Over 600 Albanian supporters and friends of the PMOI attended the meeting in Ashraf
PMOI – People’s Mojahedin of Iran also known as the MEK or Mojahedin-e-Khalq