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Iran Interlink Weekly Digest – 272

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++ Usually during the month of Ramazan, Maryam Rajavi likes to ‘entertain’ in ways that amplify her contrived public persona. This year due to the lockdown in Albania, she cannot go out or bring people to her headquarters. Instead she’s taken to writing. Several people have commented on this writing. Ali Shirzad from Norway says: “Among your multiple complaints against Iran you say that Iran has been burying chickens without killing them first and that this doesn’t match with the spirit of Ramezan. May I remind you that last week a rejected member of your MEK had staged a picket outside the Interior ministry of Albania asking for food because, after over twenty years working for you without payment, you had cut the money you are obliged to pay him in Albania under agreement with the government there. For the whole of last week, you brought all your money, power and backers to attack this person saying, ‘how dare you ask for food’. Never mind about chickens, what are you actually doing and talking about during Ramezan?”

++ Eighty percent of this week’s MEK Farsi output has been dedicated to attacking the families and their petition addressed to Albanian PM Edi Rama asking for help to contact their loved ones in the MEK camp. The other twenty percent has been the usual; repeating what the Saudis and Americans say with gross exaggeration. Many Farsi commentators have been surprised that this has been such an important issue for the MEK. Some have questioned why MEK has even wheeled out some of their veteran members like Mohammad Mohaddessin to come to their TV to talk and to answer supporters’ questions. Ironically, Mohaddesssin couldn’t explain why for decades the MEK has not allowed families meet with their relatives. Indeed, he clearly revealed in this programme that he is personally affected by this issue and is ‘gone’ – what the MEK call ‘borideh’. Ebrahim Khodabandeh, CEO of Nejat, wrote a note on this issue. In it he explains “we have news from inside the camp that the hostages are really happy that there is support for them from outside. The MEK’s counter-attack to suppress any hopes of the members is to declare that ‘nothing will happen, there will not be any meetings with families’. However, we also have news from inside the camp saying that even if this doesn’t happen, these families putting pressure on the Albanian government for our human rights results in the pressure on us inside lifting as MEK don’t want anyone to rebel or leave. A few members were brought to the TV to swear at their own families. One was the mother of Amir Vafa Yaghmai, who was clearly reading from a prepared statement as she swore against her own son. Amir had recently made a video pleading with MEK to allow him to visit his mother in the camp. Some of the families welcomed these theatrics because at least ‘we now know that these people are still alive. The fact that MEK is forced to bring them out for us to see is welcome’.”

In English:
++ Nejat Society has translated some of the messages and statements made by families with loved ones trapped inside the MEK cult. Their pleas all contain the same question ‘why’. Why are you not able to contact us? Why does MEK ban contact with family members? One mother says, “It is hard to believe that you are under such a control that you are not able to contact your parents. What a life do you have? Are you living under slavery? As far as we know, you have no free will to choose for your life. I wonder if your voice will be heard. I don’t think so. You are stuck in a foreign country with no plan for your future, but your father and me will not be disappointed. We are still waiting for you with our arms open.”

++ Anne Khodabandeh in The Iranian writes that the coronavirus crisis presents a unique opportunity for Albanian PM Edi Rama to take control of MEK activities in his country. Pointing out that the MEK operate in extrajudicial terms from an extraterritorial garrison, there is no accountability or access for Albanian officials, whether health officials or security officials. Khodabandeh points out that denying families visas to travel to Albania to find their loved ones “is just one element in a panoply of tactics designed to prevent defections. The MEK members have been denied the identity papers, travel documents and work permits which would enable them to live independently. This means that those who have managed to leave the MEK cannot work, cannot get a driving license and cannot even open a bank account to allow their families to transfer funds to cover their basic sustenance. These conditions of forced dependence are all part of a deliberate scheme to close every possible door to help from outside the MEK.” Stuck between the conflicting demands of the Trump administration and the European Union, Rama should address the MEK issue. The article concludes: “In a strange way then, the pandemic offers an opportunity for PM Rama to address this issue once and for all. To deal with the MEK not as a political or terrorist problem but instead as a social problem. The petition of the families points to an obvious solution to this problem: allow the families of MEK members to make contact with them and help them individually. But this relies on the acknowledgement of government that MEK poses a threat to Albanian society, along with the willingness to deal decisively with them. This is possible. But will PM Rama have the courage and wisdom to take this opportunity?”

++ In an interview with Balkans Post, investigative journalist Gjergji Thanasi, who lives in Durres county near the MEK camp, reveals some of the MEK’s activities, pointing out the differences between the ranks: Before the outbreak some of the rank and file inmates were allowed to go to Tirana… to do some shopping, to pay respects to the graves of dead MEK members, to see a doctor etc. They traveled in groups consisting of minimum 3 persons. The commanders were allowed to visit Tirana and other towns more freely. The rank and file inmates used to go to Tirana using public transport, while the commanders used private cars… The commanders used a couple of motorbikes to travel to the center of the small town of Manez or to reach the nearby highway linking Tirana to Durres… Up to the end of 2017 the rank and file inmates every couple of months were allowed to have a half day pleasure trip by bus… to different Albanian towns like Durres, Berat… to Kruja… etc. The rank and file inmates were allowed to have an ice cream, to drink tea at local cafes, to buy things at local shops during such pleasure trips.
“After the outbreak no rank and file members are allowed to go to Tirana, but for medical emergencies. The commanders continue to visit Tirana including the luxurious Tirana Hotel at Skanderbeg Square.”
Thanasi goes on to say, “the rules, regulations and Albanian law cease to exert power at the front gate of the camp. The degree of the extraterritoriality the camp enjoys vis-a-vis Albanian law comes close to that of the Camp in Guantanamo Bay vis-a-vis Cuban law.” He goes on to criticise the official response to MEK during the coronavirus outbreak: “The Health Ministry or its directorates in Durres has nothing to do with the camp. I defy the Health Ministry to make public even one document issued by the ministry or its local directorates regarding Camp Ashraf 3 during outbreak. This camp with its over 2,000 inmates simply does not exist for our Health Ministry. I defy the ministry to produce a scrap of paper to prove that Albanian doctors has inspected the camp even one time!”
Asked what he makes of the MEK’s allegation that he is an Iranian spy, Thanasi answered: “I love my country and I consider the MEK a security threat to my country… I have chosen to do my bit for my country regarding the MEK threat to Albania and Albanians… I am proud of myself as what I continue to do is not simply journalism. It is patriotism, too!”

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