The Supreme Court refused Monday to block the trial of seven Los Angeles residents charged with raising money for an Iranian opposition group that was designated a "foreign terrorist organization" by the U.S. government.
Lawyers for the seven had argued the charges were unconstitutional because they had a free-speech right to raise money for a political group. That claim was rejected by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which noted the Iranian opposition group ” Mujahedin Khalq, also known as the MEK ” had a record of supporting assassinations and bombings.
"Sometimes money serves as a proxy for speech, and sometimes it buys goods and services that are not speech. Guns and bombs are not speech," said Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld for the appeals court.
In their appeal, the lawyers said the accused deserved the right to challenge the group’s designation as a "foreign terrorist organization" as part of their defense.
Although the justices turned down the appeal without comment, they could take up the issue later if the seven are convicted of the charges.
"We are very disappointed the court decided not to hear this case. We believe the decision poses a threat to the civil liberties of any person who wants to contribute to a political organization in this country," said Stacey M. Leyton, a lawyer in San Francisco.
She said the law was written so broadly that organizations such as Greenpeace or the African National Congress in South Africa could be deemed foreign terrorist organizations. And once the group is on the government’s list, "the individual doesn’t have a right to challenge it," she said.
In the Antiterrorism Act of 1996, Congress gave the secretary of State the authority to designate foreign groups that "engage in terrorist activity" that threatens the security of Americans. Once a group makes this list, it is a crime for anyone to "knowingly" provide "material support" to it.
The MEK was founded as an Iranian Marxist group in the 1960s with a mission of overthrowing Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi and establishing a Marxist regime. But after the shah’s fall in 1979, the new Iranian regime was dominated not by Marxists but by Muslim clerics.
Later, the MEK participated in terrorist activities that targeted Americans, the government said. In a federal court in Washington, the group also admitted it supported assassinations of Iranian officials and mortar attacks on Iranian facilities.
The group first made the list of "foreign terrorist organizations" in 1997. Over the next four years, the seven defendants were charged with soliciting contributions at Los Angeles International Airport and wiring at least several hundred thousand dollars to an MEK bank account in Turkey.
LATimes, January 09, 2007