Escape from a guerrilla-cult organisation blocked
In Europe, the Iranian Mojahedin presents itself as a democratic alternative to the mullahs in Tehran. But the camp, which the organization established in Saddam’s Iraq, is beset by reports of dissidents escaping the gulag. The Iraqi government wants to get rid of the former fighters, but find this avenue blocked. IRO. Baghdad, in early March Hoshiar Esmail says the biggest mistake of his life was to leave his safe exile in Switzerland and to return to the Mojahedin-e Khalgh (Volksmujahedin). In 1998, he went to Iraq, where the armed Iranian opposition group, equipped with weapons and money from the former Iraqi regime, led the struggle against the mullahs’ regime. But since then the political situation in Iraq has changed fundamentally. The Shiite and Kurdish-dominated government is pursuing a course of rapprochement with the former enemy Iran, which culminated in the recent visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian opposition members are regarded as terrorists who threaten Baghdad. Locked borders
Hoshiar separated from those [loyalists] interned in the Mojahedin-e Khalq camp. But the Iraqis make no difference between those who are loyal to the organization, and those who have separated. Equipped with Iraqi travel documents, he wanted to leave Iraq as soon as possible. In mid-December , together with two other former Mojahedin-e Khalq fighters he made his way to the Turkish border. The journey, and with it the hope of a new beginning floundered at a checkpoint of the Kurdish state in northern Iraq. The Kurdish security forces monitor its border with the rest of Iraq, as if it were a state border. They took the three Iranians, and they were stuck in prison for nearly three weeks. Finally, the three were left stranded in Erbil. Hoshiar found temporary shelter in an inconspicuous building in a secluded quarter in Erbil. On the floor of his bare room is a carpet, in the corner a mattress, the curtains are also drawn in the bright daylight to fend off the curious glances of outsiders. Hoshiar crouches next to the stove. In the year 1979 – Iran had just won the Islamic revolution – he joined the Mojahedin-e Khalq. Fighting alongside the Ayatollah Khomeini against the Shah’s regime, and inspired by the revolutionary zeal of the time, these young Iranians believed in the Islamism and Marxism … doctrine of salvation that Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the group, preached. But early on in the revolution dissident voices were stifled as mercilessly as before under the Shah by the regime which came to power. The Mojahedin-e Khalq was again pushed back, thousands of its members were jailed or executed. Aged 17 years, Hoshiar landed in the Evin prison in Tehran, was later freed and was arrested again. After his release in 1984, he fled to Pakistan, from where he found his path led to Switzerland, which granted him political asylum. "The years in Switzerland were the best of my life," says Hoshiar in retrospect. But like so many exiles he felt torn between the comfort of his country and loyalty to the cause. And the propagandists of the beleaguered Mojahedin-e Khalq told him: If he really wants to change the political situation in Iran, he should go to Iraq. In the Mojahedin-e Khalq gulag
Meanwhile, the Iranian regime’s opponents struck a diabolical pact with Saddam Hussein, who supported it [Mojahedin] generously with weapons and money. In five bases the group planned and rehearsed the storming of Tehran. In Europe Massoud Rajavi’s charismatic wife Maryam acted the part of Jeanne d’Arc of Islam. In 1998, Hoshiar… went to Iraq where he was placed in Camp Ashraf in Baquba, the largest camp of the Mojahedin-e Khalq. Soon, he realized that their talk of an Islamic state with a democratic face was just hollow rhetoric.
The group was acting as a sect, Hoshiar reported. "All we got to hear and see was Rajavi this, Rajavi that," he recalls. But that was not enough. Couples were separated and … in rituals of self-criticism the fighters had to reveal intimate details about themselves before the camp leadership. In this way every individual has been made compliant. Whoever has not complied has felt humiliation. "One veteran fighter wanted to get out. He was with 400 of us in a locked room. We had to swear at and insult him,” Hoshiar reported. Another former fighter who does not want to be named, said: "It was like a Stalinist gulag." Leaving was out of the question. In the autumn of 2002 after the American attack on Iraq Hoshiar finally said he wanted to separate from the Mojahedin. "They promised me that I would go to Europe," he says, "but instead they threw me in a secret prison in the camp." He spent eleven months in solitary confinement… Twice the now 44-year-old tried to take his own life.
The arrest has left serious effects since he now suffers from chronic headaches and tinnitus. In June 2004, Hoshiar, together with several hundred fighters, had left [the group]… Rather than leave Iraq he was admitted again into a camp, this time run by the Americans. The Iraqi government says the Mojahedin-e Khalq are mercenaries of Saddam’s regime and accused it, along with Saddam’s elite units of suppressing the Shiite and Kurdish uprisings in 1991. The Iraqis say they are terrorists, and Baghdad wants them sent back to Iran. But the leadership ranks of the Mojahedin-e Khalq handed their weapons to the Americans and offered them their services. [In 2003] The Americans interned the remaining Mojahedin-e Khalq in Camp Ashraf and put them under their protection.
Two years later, about 200 ex-fighters applied to become UN Refugees (UNHCR). Walpurga Engelbrecht of the UNHCR in Baghdad said, with the recognition of political persecution the ex-fighters were given refugee status. But no country was prepared to take the refugees. In European diplomatic circles in Baghdad, it is assumed that the Americans’ Camp Ashraf [TIPF and FOB Grizzly] will soon close and that they want to get rid of the separated Mojahedin-e Khalq fighters as quickly as possible. Now Hoshiar and several dozen former Mojahedin-e Khalq have travel documents. Some 50 of them are stranded in Kurdistan. One of them, Mohammed Rostam, has twice tried to get to Turkey but each time he was re-arrested and deported to Iraq where the Kurds also briefly put him into jail. His attempt to get to Baghdad also ended in prison. The security chief of Erbil, Ismet Ergushi, confirmed the arrests and gave assurance that the Government is trying to achieve a lasting solution.
Like many of their former comrades, Mohammed and Hoshiar fear not only the Kurdish authorities, but also the long arm Tehran… "We live in constant fear," says Hoshiar. While Maryam Rajavi poses in Europe as a democratic alternative to the present regime in Tehran, Hoshiar is looking for a new hiding place. The end of his temporary odyssey is not yet in sight.
NZZ online March 31, 2008 (Translated by Iran-Interlink)