British Government fights to keep ban on main Iranian opposition group (MKO)

 The government is to appeal today against a court ruling, won by 35 MPs and peers, that it should remove the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI), the main Iranian opposition organisation, from the list of banned terrorist organisations.

The Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission (POAC) ruled last November that the government’s decision to keep the PMOI on the list was "perverse", flawed and must be set aside.

The cross-party parliamentarians backing the delisting of the PMOI – an organisation dedicated to overthrowing Iran’s fundamentalist regime by democratic means – include a former law lord, Lord Slynn, two former solicitors general and a former home secretary, Lord Waddington.

The POAC, a body set up by the government to hear appeals from organisations on the UK blacklist, ruled that the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, acted illegally in refusing to take the PMOI off the list drawn up under the Terrorism Act 2000.

The commission, chaired by former high court judge Sir Harry Ognall and cleared to see secret material, said: "We recognise that a finding of perversity is uncommon." It added: "We believe, however, that this commission is in the (perhaps unusual) position of having before it all of the material that is relevant to this decision."

Three senior judges headed by the lord chief justice, Lord Phillips, will hear the home secretary’s appeal. The POAC ruled that in deciding to maintain the ban the Home Office had misunderstood the law and ignored facts. The commission concluded that action by the PMOI against Iranian targets had ended in 2001, that the organisation maintained no military structure, that it had disarmed in 2003, and that it had not attempted to re-arm.

However, the government argues that it has only temporarily ceased terrorism for "pragmatic reasons". A Home Office spokesman said: "The PMOI was engaged in terrorism until 2001, and until 2003 kept an extensive arsenal at its base in Ashraf, Iraq. It is now seeking to establish itself as a non-violent democratic movement.

"However, our assessment is that the PMOI may not have genuinely renounced terrorism and that there may have been only a temporary cessation of terrorist acts for pragmatic reasons. We believe there is a risk of the PMOI returning to terrorism in the future that warrants its continuing proscription in this country."

The organisation, which campaigns for the replacement of the Iranian regime by a secular democracy, drew the world’s attention to Iran’s nuclear programme in 2002. Jack Straw stated in 2006 that he had put the PMOI on the terror list at the behest of the Iranian government.

The POAC’s ruling followed a decision in December 2006 by the European Court of First Instance that the PMOI should come off the EU terror blacklist. Despite that ruling, it remains on the EU list.

Masoud Zabeti, a solicitor at Mishcon de Reya and chairman of the Committee of Anglo-Iranian Lawyers, said: "The PMOI now has two legal authorities finding in its favour, but the group still remains on both the UK and EU lists.

"If terrorism legislation is to be respected and not brought into question, it is critical that the government honours the procedures that parliament has put into place to deal with such matters."

Clare Dyer, legal editor The Guardian, Monday February 18 2008

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