Labour stands up to judges by backing Tehran on dissidents
Gordon Brown is preparing to defy Britain’s most senior judge to keep an Iranian opposition group on the list of proscribed terrorist organisations.
Ministers will begin moves to lift a ban on the People’s Mujahidin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) tomorrow after Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Lord Chief Justice, found that there was no evidence it was “concerned in terrorism”.
However, Mr Brown has ordered Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, to ban the PMOI’s military wing instead, The Times has learnt. The Prime Minister is said to be keen to take on the courts following the decision to free the radical cleric, Abu Qatada, on bail.
Critics say that his determination to keep the PMOI on the list of outlawed organisations owes more to diplomatic pressure from Iran than with the fight against terrorism.
The dissident group, which claims to be working for a democratic, socialist, Islamic government in Iran, was first banned in Britain in 2001 by Jack Straw, then Home Secretary. He later admitted that it was included “at the request of the Tehran Government”. It is a criminal offence for a person to belong to or to encourage support for a proscribed organisation.
Supporters say that the PMOI gave up violence five years ago and point out that it helped to provide evidence of Iran’s nuclear programme in 2002. Last month the Court of Appeal, led by Lord Phillips, upheld a previous ruling that the ban was perverse. The Court of Appeal stated that the Home Secretary “could not reasonably have formed the view” that the PMOI intended to revert to terrorism.
A Whitehall official has told The Times that the Government will seek to ban the PMOI’s military wing, the National Resistance Army of Iran (NLA) — even though the group says that it is defunct. Ministers are also considering changing the law to expand the grounds on which groups can be banned.
The Home Secretary hinted at further action immediately after last month’s ruling by the Court of Appeal. “The PMOI has a long history of terrorism and this is why it was proscribed both in the UK and by other countries around the world,” she said.
Iran has been exerting pressure on ministers to keep the ban on the PMOI, which is part of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. “They have threatened to withdraw diplomats over this unless the ban stays,” one well-placed figure said
Francis Elliott, Deputy Political Editor,