International Women’s Day on 8 March is rooted in women’s demands for better working pay and conditions, and for voting rights, and has expanded to encompass women’s global struggle for equal rights and equal participation in social, political and economic processes.
In spite of considerable progress, continued vigilance and action are required to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life all over the world.
In this context what are we to understand about Maryam Rajavi’s claim to feminist credentials?
Rather than take Maryam Rajavi’s words and image at face value, let us examine her actions and behaviour toward women in her own organisation. The best people to help in this respect are the women members of the Mojahedin. Understandably, current female MEK members cannot speak freely about their experience of being in this organisation because they must only iterate the MEK’s public stance.
However, those women who have recently left the MEK are certainly free to talk about the situation for women inside the MEK. Even so, their courage must be acknowledged. Not only is it difficult for women to break social taboos to talk about sexual abuse, but like whistleblowers everywhere, they are subjected to enormous pressure to keep quiet.
Indeed, just a glance at the difficulties faced by these women in recent months speaks volumes about the MEK’s real approach to women. Since making public statements in a conference held the Autumn of 2012 about sexual abuses committed by the MEK leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, against them and other women members, the following incidents have taken place against these women.
Batoul Soltani previously spoke out about the abuse of women in the MEK in both Baghdad and now in Europe where she lives. She was recently attacked in front of her house and her neighbours had to come to her rescue. The MEK have published indecipherable false documents on their websites alleging that while she was a member of the Mojahedin’s Leadership Council (the highest rank after the Rajavis), she was working for the Iranian Intelligence Ministry. Batoul joined the MEK with her husband and two month old baby when she was barely eighteen years old. She had been a member for over twenty years.
Nasrin Ebrahimi, who now lives in Switzerland, was fourteen years old when she was taken to the MEK’s Camp Ashraf in Iraq. She was only able to escape after the American army forced the MEK to disarm in 2003. Nasrin was invited to the European Parliament to testify about her experience as a woman in the Mojahedin. After that she suffered such severe harassment by the MEK that she changed country twice to escape them. Police have had to protect her for some time against the MEK. Recently she has again been approached and threatened in Switzerland for joining the group of women exposing the abuses.
Zahra Bagheri crawled combat-style over a kilometre for hours in the dark to escape Camp Ashraf. Her body was so lacerated and bleeding that the Iraqi soldiers who found her wept on seeing her injuries. She spent several weeks in hospital recovering from this ordeal. In addition she has had to undergo various operations in Germany because of neglect of her medical conditions while she was in Ashraf. She also joined the other women in the Autumn 2012 conference. The MEK are currently using her two sisters and her brother who remain in Camp Liberty to perform on their TV to swear at Zahra and their mother.
In the last two months, three more women have escaped from Camp Liberty. Seeing this treatment is it surprising that they are reluctant to talk to human rights investigators in Iraq even though privately they corroborate the experiences told by the women above.
They talk about Maryam Rajavi grooming young women and having them dance naked for her and Massoud. They say that after raping them Massoud gives them a medallion with his picture on it. There are 100 names, perhaps more, of women who have had hysterectomies; that is one in ten women in the MEK. They say this is done so that Rajavi can order them to sleep with him or any other man without fear of pregnancy.
It is public knowledge that the MEK instigated forced divorces long before the fall of Saddam so that for twenty years there have been no children in the MEK. In interviews with the BBC they proudly announced it and defended this policy. According to recent escapees, Rajavi has told the MEK the following: ‘According to Islamic rule, if a woman turns against her husband he has the right to kill her. According to the Internal Revolution you are all my wives. So if any of you betrays me and leaves the MEK I have the right to kill you under Islamic law.’ On the MEK websites they have published Massoud Rajavi’s threat: ‘I have evidence about everybody and if they leave I will expose them.’ It is thought he may have film of sexual acts.
(Women "rewarded" with pendants and robes after sexual ordeal)
The MEK have for decades used violence, intimidation and harassment to prevent former members from speaking publicly about the abuses taking place inside the organisation.
News of these activities is suppressed because some people think that terrorism is a useful tool. These women face a backlash of ‘power and money’ to stop them talking, while the same ‘power and money’ grooms the perpetrator, Maryam Rajavi, to talk about the rights of women and criticise marriage laws and say how they should be changed in the favour of women. ‘Power and money’ believe the MEK should not only be removed from terrorism lists but should be paraded in parliaments as exemplars of feminism. ‘Power and money’ are so dishonest that they cast the MEK in the role of victim while condemning the former women members as torturers, spies and agents.
No one expects ‘power and money’ to take the side of victims, but to turn the tables in this way is truly sickening.
Author of "Saddam’s Private Army" and "The life of Camp Ashraf"