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 Khomenei, the mullahs had executed 30,000 members of the People’s Mojahedin of Iraq in an atrocity now actively under investigation by the UN. Khomenei’s successor 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 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 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. In 2013, an airlift began and the first Iranian dissidents arrived in the Albanian capital. 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 3,000 PMOI members were safely housed in special accommodation in Tirana, paid for by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
The mullahs were appalled; 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. Immediately, their embassy in Tirana, which had previously been home to a second ranking ambassador and a small staff, became the focus of an expanding nest of intelligence agents and spies, under the supervision of the new Iranian Ambassador, a senior Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) officer.
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 and more recently, sending another diplomat to assassinate an opposition figure in Denmark. Both ‘so-called’ diplomats have been arrested and are facing trial for acts of terror.
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. 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 when UNHCR funding ran out in September 2017, the PMOI refugees, now numbering around 2,500, 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, 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 last week together with a high level delegation of MEPs from Brussels, comprising two members of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and the deputy head of the Security and Defence Committee, in a week which has seen 150 MEPs from all political factions and groups sign a petition condemning human rights abuse in Iran.What we saw was a remarkable transformation. We were able to move freely around the camp, talking to hundreds of the Iranian refugees. 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.
It is lies like this, lapped up by ‘useful idiots’ in the Western press that emboldens the mullahs. A recent lengthy article in a national newspaper in Britain that repeated all of these insults and lies, was published word for word on Khodabandeh’s vitriolic pro-mullah website, fully three weeks before it appeared in the newspaper, clearly revealing its odious source. Shamefully, the western media are apparently happy to ignore the ongoing repression in Iran, where strikes and mass protests have continued daily for almost a year, with striking truck drivers sentenced to death and protesting sugarcane workers sentenced to flogging and long terms of imprisonment. Over 12,000 protesters have been jailed. Many have been murdered.
It is for me a great sadness that there are journalists today who ignore these issues and 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 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.