Woman brainwashed into staying at guerrilla camp

Bid to overturn refugee board decision

TORONTO – A lawyer accused a Middle Eastern guerrilla group yesterday of luring a teenaged Toronto girl to a paramilitary camp in Iraq and brainwashing her into staying.

Pamila Bhardwaj told a Federal Court judge that Somayeh Mohammady had effectively been kidnapped by the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, a rebel group based in Iraq.

The lawyer made the accusation at a court hearing that could ultimately decide whether Ms. Mohammady will be allowed to return to Canada after a decade with the guerrillas.

The MEK, a designated terrorist organization under Canadian law, says it aims to use “physical force, armed struggle or jihad” to overthrow Iran’s repressive government, according to Ottawa.

In the 1990s, the MEK was recruiting within Canada’s Iranian community and Ms. Mohammady, a refugee from Iran, volunteered with the blessing of her parents, both MEK activists.

In 1997, at the age of 17, she travelled to Camp Ashraf, the MEK guerrilla base north of Baghdad from which it launched its attacks on Iran.

She has been there ever since.

While she was away, the rest of the family became Canadian citizens. But Ms. Mohammady’s landed immigrant status expired because she was not residing in Canada as required by law.

The MEK base was disarmed after the U.S. military invaded Iraq in 2003, but hundreds of guerrillas remain at the camp, including Ms. Mohammady.

Mustafa Mohammady, her father, has made several trips to Iraq hoping to bring her back to Canada, but Canadian officials will not let her return because she no longer has immigration status here.

The family challenged that decision at the Immigration and Refugee Board last year but Ms. Mohammady torpedoed her own case when she testified by phone from Iraq that she did not want to return to Canada. “I would like to be here,” she said, “because I’m Mujahedin myself and I want to be here.”

Her family believes she has been brainwashed or is afraid to speak her mind, and Ms. Bhardwaj said human rights groups have reported that “defectors” who try to leave the camp are routinely beaten and detained. “She’s under mind control of the MEK,” Mr. Bhardwaj said.

Ms. Bhardwaj told the court yesterday the refugee board’s ruling should be overturned because it did not take that into account, nor did it consider that Ms. Mohammady was a minor when she was recruited into the MEK.

“This decision simply cannot stand,” she said.

But Martin Anderson, the lawyer representing the government in the case, said there was insufficient evidence Ms. Mohammady had been subjected to psychological pressure. “That may be, but there’s not enough evidence before the panel to establish that.”

He also said that even though she was a minor when she first left Canada for the paramilitary camp, she had turned 18 in 1998. “After that time, she’s an adult,” Mr. Anderson said.

Stewart Bell – [email protected]

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