While the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) claims that its so-called “resistance units” are active all over Iran to push the overthrow of the Iranian government, independent researchers and journalists have always stated that the group lacks public support in Iran.
Zaynab Malakouti Khah is an Iranian researchers at UNESCO Chair for Human Rights, Peace and Democracy of Shahid Beheshti University. She graduated from Iran in 2012 with a First-Class in Law and obtained an LLM in International Human Rights Law at the University of Reading, UK. She has published several articles and a book on human rights, international law, Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Financing.
In September 2018, her article titled “Iran: Sponsoring or Combating Terrorism?” was published by Studies in Conflict and Terrorism journal. In a part of the article under the subtitle “Iran as a victim of terrorist attacks”, the author presents a fairly comprehensive and independent outlook on the MEK. The following is that part proceeded by its references:
Iran as a victim of terrorist attacks
Dissident nationalist terrorism
Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, various groups opposed Ayatollah Khomeini. The leading opposition group was the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), with a background in Marxist and Islamist interpretations. The MEK survived the test of time and developed into the most disciplined armed organization opposing the Islamic Republic.23 The MEK was established in 1965 in opposition to the Shah and the United States. It targeted U.S. civilians and military personnel, supporting the U.S. embassy hostage-taking in Tehran.24 Following the 1979 Revolution, although the MEK first endorsed Ayatollah Khomeini, they later attempted to overthrow the government but failed and fled to Paris and then Iraq.25 Members of MEK sought refuge in Camp Ashraf near the Iran–Iraq border and were financially and militarily supported by the regime of Saddam Hussein, the former leader of Iraq. From 1980 to 2003 (when MEK’s weapons were confiscated by the U.S. intervention mission in Iraq),26 they carried out several terrorist attacks in both Iran and on Iranian interests in other countries.27 Selected attacks by the MEK included the bombing of the Islamic Republic Party Headquarters (1981), which led to the death of approximately seventy high-ranking officials; attacks on diplomats (1987 and 1994); an explosion in the Imam Reza Mausoleum (1989); attacks on thirteen Iranian embassies around the world (1992); the Presidential Palace; the Defense Ministry and military bases (2000);and a motor attack on the Supreme Court and other governmental buildings (2001).28
In retaliation, the MEK’s members were executed in prison,29 the total execution toll is difficult to estimate[..]. The MEK had been designated as a terrorist group by the United States,33 United Kingdom,34 and European Union (EU). However, it was removed from their blacklists in 2012, 2008, and 2009, respectively, due to the curtailment of terrorist activities.35 Iran condemned the delisting of the MEK and highlighted the Western double standards on terrorism.36 The Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, condemned the U.S. methods of separating “good” and “bad” terrorists, asserting that this “shows terrorism is bad if terrorists are not America’s servants, but if terrorists become America’s servants, then they are not bad.”37 The supporters of the MEK still believe that the organization is capable of replacing the current regime,38 and it continues to have some powerful Western supporters.39 Regardless of the U.S. and the Western support for the MEK, 40 as a group that carried out terrorist activities, it does not have widespread public backing in Iran. They have killed dozens of civilians, and a Human Rights Watch report indicates violations of human rights inside the organization, ranging from detention of its members who wish to leave the organization to torture. 41
23. Ervand Abrahamian, The Iranian Mojahedin (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press,1989), 1.
24. Ibid., 126.
25. Ibid., 216–219.
26. Andrew T. H. Tan, The Politics of Terrorism (London: Routledge, 2006), 187.
27. Abrahamian, The Iranian Mojahedin, 221; Saeed Hakimiha, “siyasat-i Jinayi Iran darQibal-i Mubarizih ba Tirurism,” Majalih-i siyasat-i Difayi 19, no. 76 (2011): 77; Anthony H. Cordesman and Adam G. Seitz, Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Birth of a Regional Nuclear Arms Race? (Washington, DC: Centre for Strategic and International Studies, 2009), 326–327.
28. Jeremiah Goulka et al., eds., The Mujahedin-e-Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2009), 80–89.
29 Amnesty International Organisation, “Iran: Violation of Human Rights 1987–1990.” https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/200000/mde130211990e (accessed 12 September 217).
30 Reza Afshari, Human Rights in Iran: The Abuse of Cultural Relativism (Philadelphia: University Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 114.
31 Ibid., 48–57.
32 Amnesty International Organisation, “Iran: Violation of Human Rights 1987–1990.”
33 People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran v. Department of State and Colin L. Powell, Secretary of State, 01-1465; 01-1476; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 9 May 2003; National Council of Resistance of Iran v. Department of State and Colin L. Powell, Secretary of State, No. 01-1480; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 9 July 2004.
34 Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) order 2—1 SI 2001/1261, and Secretary of State for the Home Department v. Lord Alton of Liverpool and Others  EWCA Civ 443, United Kingdom: Court of Appeal (England and Wales), 7 May 2008.
35 In 2012, the MEK was delisted from the U.S. terrorist list due to the confirmed absence of terrorist activities by the group. U.S. Department of State, “Delisting of the Mujahedin-e Khalq,” Department of State, 28 September 2012. www.state.gov/j/ct/ris/other/des/266607.htm (accessed 9 July 2017). Britain’s Court of Appeal ordered the government to revoke the terrorist designation, because from 2001 no military activity had been carried out by the MEK. (Secretary of State for the Home Department v Lord Alton of Liverpool  EWCA Civ 443). There followed the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2008, SI 2008\ 1645. In 2009, the EU removed the MEK from the terror list because of the lack of two conditions for being a terrorist group, including “serious and reliable evidence or clue” (Article 1(4) of the Common Position 2001/931/CFSP), and “committing, or attempting to commit, practicing in or facilitating the commission of any act of terrorism” (Article 2(3) of the Regulation 2580/2001).
36 “Iran Condemns US for Double Standards Over MEK Terror De-Listing,” The Guardian, 29 September 2012. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/29/iran-condemns-us-mek-terror-delisting (accessed 12 September 2017).
37 Gawdat Bahgat, “United States-Iranian Relations: The Terrorism Challenge,” Parameters 38, no. 4 (2008): 102.
38 Keith Crane, Rollie Lal, and Jeffrey Martini, Iran’s Political Demographic and Economic Vulnerabilities (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2008), 28.
39 See: R (Lord Carlile) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 60.
40 People Mojahedin Organisation of Iran, “Grand Gathering of the Iranian Opposition in Paris,” 30 June 2018, http://english.mojahedin.org/i/grand-gathering-the-iranian-opposition-paris-2018 (accessed 1 July 2018).
41. Human Rights Watch, “No Exit: Human Rights Abuses Inside the Mojahedin-e Khalq Camps,” Human Right Watch, 2005. https://www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/mena/iran0505/iran0505.pdf (accessed 13 July 2017); and “U.S. Terrorism Report: MEK and Jundallah,” Iran Primer, 23 August 2011. http://iranprimer.usip.org/blog/2011/aug/23/us-terrorism-report-mek-and-jundallah (accessed 11 August 2017)