Struan Stevenson- Albania Speech
Iranian Democratic Opposition-PMOI- Camp in Tirana
9 December 2016
Dear sisters and brothers,
I cannot begin to tell you how filled with joy I am to see you all here today. I am extremely happy that you have all been transferred to Albania. Your courage and endurance over many years, but in particular during the oppression you suffered in Ashraf & Liberty over the past 10 years, have been an inspiration to us all. I can tell you in all honesty that I can at last sleep again at night, without wondering if I’ll be awakened with news of another horrific attack on my brothers and sisters in Ashraf or Liberty.
Your suffering was an appalling crime against humanity, but your fortitude and bravery was an example to the world. Congratulations on your freedom. Congratulations on your liberation. You know only too well how the mullahs wanted to eliminate all of you, so it was a terrific victory to see you all flown out to Albania. It was a massive defeat for the mullahs and must have enraged them. It is a great example of the strength of the opposition and the weakness of the regime. Your resistance and perseverance in Ashraf and Liberty drew the attention of the world.
Who would have imagined, ten years ago, that the plight of the PMOI in Camp Liberty would be debated in the White House and that John Kerry would be despatched to Tirana to negotiate with Edi Rama? This is the value of your resistance. Your courage and suffering inspired world leaders to rally to our cause. It inspired parliaments and international organisations. I remember going to Geneva several times to meet Antonio Gutterez – the UN Refugee Chief and on one occasion he said to me that despite all of the wars and crises happening around the world, he got more emails, letters, petitions and phonecalls about Camp Ashraf than any other subject! And now he is the UN Secretary General, so you can be certain that he knows all about the PMOI thanks to you.
The repeated rocket attacks you had to endure; the siege and blockade against fuel, food and essential equipment; the medical blockade that cost many lives and much suffering; the emotional torture involving bogus ‘family members’ from Iran, who were allowed to penetrate the security perimeter and shout abuse and threats at you through loudspeakers, while carrying out reconnaissance missions to prepare for further rocket attacks; the massacres, the assassinations, the looting and theft of your property. These serial violations of your basic human rights were ignored by the UN: Three massacres at Camp Ashraf, five missile attacks on Camp Liberty, two cases of abduction of defenceless residents, and the imposition of a fully-fledged eight-year siege; all of these issues left 177 residents dead.
Against this background of violence and aggression, it was almost a miracle that tiny Albania was prepared to stick its head above the parapet, to provide a safe haven now for the majority of PMOI refugees. The Albanians suffered years of oppression under the Communists and they know what it is like to fight for freedom and democracy. Their courage in rescuing the PMOI residents from Camp Liberty, against a backlash of fury from Tehran should be a matter of acute embarrassment for the 28 EU Member States who did so little to help. The EU did not even put pressure on Iraq to pay compensation for the properties left behind in Ashraf, or for the personal goods confiscated from every batch of refugees before they were allowed to fly to Albania. Now is the time to hold the guilty parties to account. Now is the time to demand that Nouri al-Maliki and his torturers and murderers are indicted for crimes against humanity. Now is the time for the international courts to indict Iraq for the theft of PMOI property in Ashraf and Liberty.
As President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq during my final 5-year mandate until I retired in 2014, I was able to see for myself the abject failure of the West’s policy of appeasement in respect of the Iranian mullahs and their marionettes in Iraq. I was able to learn at first-hand about the Iraqi government’s repeated attempts to annihilate you, under the guidance of the Iranian regime, while the US, UN and EU stood back apathetically and watched, in a classic act of betrayal.
We are still spellbound by Iran. The nuclear deal, despite all its shortcomings, has in fact weakened the regime and its problems have increased. The West should remember that it was the PMOI network inside Iran, at huge risk to their own lives, who first informed the world, way back in August 2002, about the mullahs’ secret nuclear programme. Western intelligence agencies had simply failed to uncover this conspiracy. And yet, rather than rewarding the PMOI for this information, the US, UK and EU fought tooth and nail to keep them on their international blacklists, where they had been placed at the direct request of the mullahs, based on trumped-up and farcical charges dreamed up by Tehran.
This was appeasement policy at its worst and it took us many years of difficult, complex and expensive court battles in Washington, London, Paris and Luxembourg to have the terror tags removed.
Now, a year after the nuclear deal, no major economic problems have been solved inside Iran and the money the government of Rouhani has received, has been spent on exporting terrorism in the region. For example a sum of $150 billion of frozen assets was released by the Obama administration, providing a windfall for a government that was teetering on the brink of economic collapse. But far from investing in its own people, the fascist mullah-led regime has used this money to re-double its spending on weapons and on exporting terror through the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Qods Force, both of which are listed terrorist organisations in the West and both of which are involved in almost every conflict in the Middle East.
As well as Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the brutal Shi’ite militias in Iraq, Iran also funds and suppliesYemen’s Houthi rebels andHezbollah in Lebanon. This is the real Iran under the theocratic and fascist rule of the mullahs, whose so-called ‘moderate’ president Rouhani the West believes it can do deals with. We should wake up! The ‘smiling’, ‘moderate’ Rouhani is in charge of a venally corrupt government, which has executed more than 3,000 people since he took office in 2013. Mass hangings are now the order of the day. Many are carried out in public, even in football stadiums. But this should come as no surprise.
Despite the wishful thinking of some people in the West, the nuclear deal has not resulted in any unlocking of Iranian society because what we have in Iran is a theocracy, a religious dictatorship. Any relaxation of their oppressive laws would result in a crack in the system, a fracturing of the atmosphere of fear and terror. That is why Ayatollah Khamenei has even issued a fatwa, banning women from riding bicycles! That is why the same mullahs who have been responsible for the mass executions in the early eighties in Iran, are still in government.
So the theocratic natureof this Islamic fundamentalist dictatorship has not changed but its appearancehas changed. Instead of Ahmadinejad, we have Hassan Rouhani who smiles and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif speaks very good English and frequently tweets, as if smiling, speaking good English or being active on Twitter is an indication of moderation!
Bear in mind that the rest of Iranian society is blocked from having access to Twitter and Facebook.
On August 9ththis year, the son of Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, the former Deputy Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic and the nominated successor to Ayatollah Khomeini, published a previously unknown audio-tape in which Montazeri acknowledged that the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, most of whom were supporters of the PMOI/MEK, had taken place in 1988 and had been ordered at the highest levels of the regime. In the electrifying tape, Montazeri can be heard telling a meeting of the ‘Death Committee’ in 1988 that they are responsible for a crime against humanity. He says: “The greatest crime committed during the reign of the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed by you. Your (names) will in the future be etched in the annals of history as criminals.”Because of his forthright protests, the Grand Ayatollah was dismissed as the heir to the Supreme Leader by Khomeini and placed under house arrest until his death in 2009.
The mass executions, in jails across Iran, were carried out on the basis of a fatwa by the regime’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. A ‘Death Committee’ approved all the death sentences. Indeed Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, a member of that ‘Death Committee’ is today President Hassan Rouhani’s Justice Minister.None of the perpetrators of the 1988 massacre have ever been brought to justice. When the massacres began, hundreds of political prisoners were hanged every day and their corpses were buried hurriedly in mass graves in all of Iran’s major cities, in particular Tehran.
Iran’s so-called ‘moderate’ President, the smiling Hassan Rouhani, was Deputy Commander-in-chief of the regime's armed forces at the time. As such he was certainly fully aware of the shocking extermination of the political prisoners in Iran and as such should be held to account, together with all of the other perpetrators. Twenty-eight years on from this barbaric crime, international condemnation has been slow to emerge.
Now we hear that Ahmad Montazeri, the son of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri and himself a senior cleric, has been tried in the Special Court for Clerics in Qom on October 19th. He was accused of undermining state security and propaganda against the system and for releasing classified information and sentenced to 21 years imprisonment.
He will apparently serve six years because he is a senior cleric; but he was also ordered to be de-frocked, although apparently that sentence has been suspended for 3 years.
There has been little reaction from the West to this news. Indeed the West seems determined to overlook the 1988 massacre although it is surely one of the greatest human rights atrocities since the end of World War II. But clearly lucrative commercial deals with the Iranian regime are more important to the West. It is a disgrace that there has been no prosecution of the criminals who orchestrated and carried out the gruesome 1988 murders. If the UN is to retain any shred of legitimacy it must immediately launch a full and independent investigation into this appalling crime and insist on the arrest and trial for crimes against humanity of Khamenei, Rouhani and all of the other murderers whose bloodstained hands the West continues to shake.
The UN adopted its 63rdresolution condemning human rights violations in Iran at the General Assembly's Third Committee meeting in November. It was a strongly worded condemnation, tougher than ever before and as a result won the backing of 85 countries, nine more than last year, despite frantic efforts by the mullahs to silence all criticism. The resolution expressed serious concern and called on the regime to stop the high level of executions, torture, harassment, intimidation, persecution, arbitrary detention and discrimination; yet the resolution failed to mention the 1988 massacre.
Of course to this day one of the biggest targets for arrest, imprisonment, torture and execution in Iran is the PMOI. As you know only too well, supporters of the PMOI face a mandatory death sentence under the Iranian Constitution for ‘Waging War Against God!’ Tehran fears and loathes the PMOI and in particular the Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, whom they recognize as their main opposition and the main threat to their power. When Mrs Rajavi talks about restoring freedom, justice, democracy, human rights, women’s rights, an end to torture and the death penalty and the eradication of nuclear weapons, it sends shivers down the spine of the turbaned tyrants in Tehran. Mrs Rajavi’s remarkable leadership throughout the crisis that engulfed all of you in Ashraf and Liberty was an example to us all. It was her steadfast determination to force the political leaders to listen to your plight that built the powerful and amazing international network of Ashraf and PMOI friends in Europe and the US
Every summer the PMOI hold their annual rally in Paris when over 100,000 PMOI supporters come to listen to Mrs Rajavi and to other internationally renowned political leaders. No other group or movement that I know of can organize such a major event and attract such a big crowd. It just shows how important the PMOI is and the fact that we have achieved your collective relocation to Albania with the help of the US government at a time of appeasement policy pursued by the Obama administration is even more remarkable and shows the scope of your resistance and the power of your friends. I have high hopes that we may see a shifting of the continental plates now with the election of Donald Trump as the next US President. Trump has surrounded himself with an incredible line-up of key PMOI supporters like Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Newt Gingrich and others. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Trump tore up the nuclear deal and invited Mrs Rajavi to Washington? It would cause shockwaves in Tehran!
Trump has repeatedly questioned whythe West always seems to back the wrong side in the Middle East? Despite repeated warnings, the UN, US and EU backed Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister in Iraq for 8 disastrous years. He was a puppet of the fascist Iranian regime, doing their bidding by opening a direct route for Iranian troops and equipment heading to Syria to bolster the murderous Assad regime.
The mullahs’ support for Maliki in Iraq and for Bashar Assad in Syria, two corrupt dictators who repressed their own people and particularly the Sunni community, resulted to the rise of ISIS in the region. Because the Sunnis were humiliated and repressed, they were pushed towards being recruited by the Islamic extremists. So thanks to Tehran, ISIS grew and became a threat to the whole world.
In fact what we call Islamic Fundamentalism today, really began when Ayatollah Khomeini, came to power in 1979 and set up the first Islamic Republic in the world in recent history; and since then Tehran has been the main source of exporting Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, for both Shi’ias and Sunnis. Tehran’s role in supporting Islamic extremism and providing inspiration as well as logistics for them is similar to the role of Moscow during the spread of communism. There were many different communist and Marxist parties with a lot of internal ideological differences. But Moscow played a vital role for them.
As soon as the Soviet Union crumbled and Moscow lost that central role, many of these communist groups disappeared and vanished. That is why we believe that when we have regime change in Tehran, all these extremist Islamic groups will fade away.
It is time the West woke up to the fact that as long as the mullahs remain in power there will be no possibility of peace in the Middle East. The mullahs will always be the problem. They can never be part of the solution. Obama’s failure to back the Syrian opposition has allowed the bloody civil war in that country to rage on for almost six years, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and sparking the huge migration crisis in Europe. Indeed US policy (or the lack of it) in Syria has bolstered the Iranian regime’s support for Bashar al-Assad and has allowed Vladimir Putin to flex his Middle East muscles in direct confrontation with the West, pouring petrol on the flames of conflict, hand in hand with Tehran. The West should back the Syrian opposition.
But the many victories that the Iranian resistance has achieved, such as your successful transfer to Albania, has shown that in this big family of the Iranian democratic resistance, whenever we have stood firm, whenever we have joined forces and have been prepared to pay the price, we have managed to open up our way forward and brush aside the obstacles. In many cases we have managed to bring the USA and Europe together in our support. The great international campaign to remove the PMOI from various terrorist black lists was another example where the Iranian opposition and its supporters stood firm and with the great friendship of many parliamentarians we managed to de-list the PMOI from those terrorist lists.
Throughout all of these campaigns, it was the brave residents of Ashraf and Liberty that inspired us and encouraged us to keep on fighting. It is because of your example that we have managed to achieve these great victories. In the beginning, Western governments were not on our side and in many cases they collaborated with the Ayatollahs against us, but with your steadfastness and your shining example as our guiding light we managed to bring them to our side. This is power. This is the power of the resistance, a huge power. Now that you are safe, we can turn all of our attention and focus all of our energy on regime change in Iran.
The fact that all of you are here together in Tirana is of great significance. It somehow demonstrates that the Albanian government has recognised and accepted the PMOI as a legitimate opposition movement. And we know that politicians from all sides of the spectrum in Albania support you. I came to Tirana with my great friend Alejo Vidal-Quadras in May 2014 just after the first group had arrived from Liberty. Alejo and I met with the Conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his Foreign minister, Europe Minister and many other key Albanian politicians. They pledged their support and in return we pledged our support for Albania’s application to join the EU. Within two months Albania was on the EU Waiting List and we will continue to fight for them to become a full EU Member State….after all there will soon be a vacancy when the UK leaves! But when Edi Rama and the socialists came to power in Albania, they continued their high-level support for the PMOI and we thank them for that from the bottom of our hearts. I am certain that their humanitarian gesture has increased their credibility and integrity in the eyes of the other EU nations and in the eyes of the world.
So I would like to add my deepest gratitude and respect to all of you for your constant, unflagging self-sacrifice over the years. For decades, Iran has systematically jailed, tortured, and executed dissidents without due process of law and assassinated political opponents, even outside its state borders. But I am absolutely confident that if it were not for you and this resistance movement, the political situation in the region and in Iran would have been much worse and the Iranian regime would have been able to commit many more crimes in the world.
You, my brothers and sisters in this big family of the Iranian resistance, you have broken the mould. Although no government except Albania has supported you, although you were unjustly put on various black lists, although many of you have paid a heavy price, nevertheless you are the frontline of this huge worldwide movement that has the support of tens of thousands of people in the western democracies. This is due to your faith and commitment. In all these years that I have been in politics, I have never seen any resistance movement, or indeed any political party, to be so committed to its principles and be prepared to make such self-sacrifices for the noble cause of freedom. It is amazing that the PMOI has brought together politicians from the left and right, people of many different faiths and cultures, all fighting for justice and freedom.
It is highly appropriate that you have been able collectively to relocate here to Tirana, where you can continue to conduct your activities and fight for the overthrow of the Iranian dictatorship and for the return of freedom and democracy in Iran.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have long been impressed by the dedication of the PMOI. They seek nothing for themselves. Their only goal is to restore freedom for the 80 million Iranians imprisoned by the world’s most brutal and ruthless regime. The mullahs’ fear of the PMOI and of Mrs Rajavi demonstrates the extent of support that the main opposition enjoys even within that beleaguered nation. I long for the day when the sunshine of freedom will shine once more on the people of Iran. This resistance movement can lead the people of Iran towards that new dawn and towards the freedom that they so richly deserve.And it is through your support that we will make this happen. I long for the day when we may march hand in hand through the streets of Tehran. When that day comes and it will come soon, I will be proud to remind my children and grandchildren that ‘I AM AN ASHRAFI.’
Thank you so much.
Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014). He was President of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009- 2014) and Chair of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (Caucus) from 2004-2014. He is now President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).