Ebrahim in Iran, 2005 Terrorist or freedom fighter: Any account of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) will reveal a black record of destroying family relationships and misappropriating various people’s lives and belongings. All of the organisation’s terrorist actions inside Iran after they fled the country have been planned, facilitated and directed from inside Iraq with the intelligence, training, weapons and equipment provided by Saddam Hussein. The people of Iran will not disregard this under any circumstances. In their eyes, not only is the PMOI not a freedom fighting organisation, it is a betrayer which stood alongside Iran’s enemy throughout the war and through the Iranian people’s hardship.
In his book, A Shared Pain, Antoine Gessler refers to the people who have suffered from the misdeeds of the organisation led by Rajavi:
“. . . their lives should have continued differently. All were promised an uneventful existence. That is, until the day their destiny was turned upside down because somebody stole their body or their soul, sometimes both. Their dreams ruined; their flesh ravaged; they will not be able to forget.”
From mental prison to physical prison:
I believe that imprisonment degrades any person’s human dignity. Particularly a person who, whether right or wrong, has sacrificed everything for his goals and has not sought anything for himself; and who from the beginning until now had no other motivation in his life but to fulfil his duty toward God and his people.
I also believe that the relationship between a prisoner and his prison warden, no matter how good and respectful it might be, consists of barriers which, one way or another, divide them from one another. Surely you could not establish a warm and friendly relationship with a person who has denied you your freedom and has demeaned your beliefs.
The quest for liberty and an independent identity is in the nature of every human being. Throughout history, no other demand or requirement of human society has been more paramount than the mutual demands to live in freedom and enjoy self determination. A person can define themselves as human to the extent that they have the right and the power to choose freely, and to the extent that their independent identity from which to make their own decisions is fully recognised.
A prison is a prison, even though it might look like a palace. And above all else, it damages your human feelings. But, for a person who has spent over two decades of his life as a full-time member of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation, and has passed through the different stages of the Internal Ideological Revolution and never possessed anything of his own, a physical prison has no hardship compared to the mental prison which has no bars and chains.
Indeed, to some extent it has its own advantages.
In a physical prison, a person can move only within the small boundary designated to him, is only allowed to do specific things at predetermined times and is, of course, deprived of many facilities.
In the mental prison, by using sophisticated, complex and sometimes abnormal methods and mechanisms, the person is inculcated into a specific way of thinking. He is eventually trained to control his own mind within a narrowly defined framework and not to let his thoughts escape from it. In such prison there is always the possibility that the smallest hole to the outside, free world could lead to the flight of the mind. Then the prisoner would no longer be in the hands of the prison warden. Therefore he must continuously be brainwashed.
In the Mojahedin, this is done in the daily Current Operational Sessions (a daily session of self-criticism practiced inside the organisation for all its members at different ranks) so that both the outlets and the inlets of the mind are blocked up and closed. The Internal Ideological Revolution, which places the leader in the position of absolute right, has this functional effect that it first establishes mental boundaries in one’s mind and then makes the person perform actions which would, according to a sound mind, look totally lunatic. The acts of self-immolation in June 2003 in Europe are eminent examples of this behaviour. Alain Chevalérias in his book Burned Alive refers to these horrendous acts. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how the victims are persuaded to perform these sorts of actions willingly?
In such a system, people cannot be permitted anything like a normal life and are not even free to associate freely with their surroundings, otherwise their mental insulation would be opened up. One should under no circumstances be exposed to the realities of the outside world, nor be permitted to think independently.
Function of the mental prison:
In the year 1985 in Paris, the cornerstone of the Mojahedin’s so-called Internal Ideological Revolution was laid down. A pseudo revolution which above all, was the basis for extending the strict limitations and restrictions already imposed upon the organisation’s cadres, leading eventually to their complete isolation from the outside world. Gradually, using complex methods, members became more bound within their own mental margins so that they were deprived of the ability to make even the simplest decisions.
I ask, was there any threat from their side? Why was it necessary to isolate the members from the outside world and practically imprison them in order to keep them within the framework of the struggle? What sort of threat could have been expected from or against people who had joined the organisation by leaving everything behind and who had accepted every kind of hardship over the years? The cadres now had to learn to walk not on their own feet but on those of the leader and were taught to consider their souls and minds as belonging to him and empty their brains from any thoughts except those dictated by the leader and bear love only for him in their hearts. Everyone who submitted to this process reached the understanding that whatever exists outside the organisation is surely Satanic and corrupt and that reality is only within one man’s grasp; that he is the only one who tells the truth, and that we, collectively, are the most fortunate generation to understand his potential and then struggle under his guidance.
People were frightened of the outside world and they were openly warned that if just for one moment they leave the bounds of the Internal Ideological Revolution and the daily Current Operational sessions they would be cursed. In the theory of the Internal Ideological Revolution, the value of any member is directly related to the extent of their devotion to the leadership and their submission to him, heart and mind.
Gradually, through time, a system was established in which values specific to itself evolved. So that, the normal contact of an ordinary member with his close relatives or friends who happened to be travelling to Iran was considered a betrayal and an unforgivable sin. Yet, dealing with Tahir Habush, the chief of Saddam’s Intelligence and Security Agency, and the leader himself receiving boxes of money, along with assassination orders to be carried out inside Iran, was measured as humble service toward Iran, Islam and humanity. The topics of the Internal Ideological Revolution one after another isolated any slit towards the outside world and strengthened all the mental fences. Members were bound in such a closed mental prison that they would never allow themselves to even think about anything but what the organisation prescribes.
When the organisation announced that the Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic of Iran had abducted Jamil Bassam and Ebrahim Khodabandeh from Syria, transferred them to Iran, and jailed them in Evin prison, they did not mention who had already stolen their minds and souls over the years, had physically and mentally imprisoned them, had denied them their human identity and turned them into powerless objects who had no will to make any decision.
What is past is prologue:
Once upon a time, in the year 1965 under the deposed Shah’s regime, some revolutionary Moslem youths decided to struggle against his dictatorship. They identified armed struggle as the means to topple the regime and free the oppressed people of Iran. To do this they needed to establish a covert organisation which, in order to be safe against the Shah’s security system, would be based on minimising the information given to its members. Since this organisation was vulnerable to detection by SAVAK, people had to leave their homes and families and live communally in safe houses and act without question on the organisation’s commands with an iron discipline. They had to attend self-criticising sessions in order to rid themselves of non-revolutionary and liberalistic manners, so that they would be better prepared to accept the leaders’ orders. And this is how the PMOI was formed. The members and the cadres became so isolated from their surroundings and they practiced so hard to dissolve into the organisation that in time the Central Committee could, by a simple decree, change the ideology and even the religious beliefs which had once been the motivation for joining the struggle, and face no objections. Of course those few people who had not rooted out their liberalistic manners and had not become obedient enough, had to be eliminated or be given up to SAVAK. This was a unique phenomenon in the contemporary history of Iran in any group, organisation or party. Ms Tahira Baqirzadé, Mr Ahmid Ahmid and Mr Mohsen Nezhad Husseinian, prominent members of the organisation in those days, have dealt with this issue in their memoirs which I had the chance to read inside prison. I believe a considerable number of today’s members of the organisation have never heard of the above mentioned people let alone read their books.
Ebrahim visiting with his mother in Iran
Development of mental prison:
But this process – being isolated from society and normal social life – continued more rapidly after the 1979 revolution and then outside Iran. In the new phase of the organisation’s history, under the phenomenon of the Internal Ideological Revolution, not only had people to leave their homes and families but they also had to consider their parents, spouses and even children as enemies; obstacles on the path to reach understanding of the noble position of the leadership. Members, even in the west, had to avoid the internet or satellite television and be fed information by the organisation only. Iraqi territory provided a perfect opportunity to establish a huge safe-house with no opening to the free world so that members could have their brainwashing performed step by step without any interference. Members in the west would also spend some time there to acquaint themselves with the internal atmosphere of the organisation and become pure and obedient elements.
In the People’s Mojahedin’s school of teaching, religion, home country, emotion and everything else are all concentrated in one man only. ‘Islamic’ means what he has said, ‘popular and nationalistic’ mean what he has expressed, and ’emotions’ should be exclusively directed towards him. The cornerstone of this teaching is of course based on a big lie. The sort of lie which is so enormous that for some people it leaves no doubt that it is the whole truth and nothing but the truth! All ideologies based on monopoles; such as Fascism, Zionism or Communism, which stand on the guidance of a moral leader are based on the belief that “we are better than all”. A person who enters the People’s Mojahedin Organisation must accept that the organisation and its leader stand above the whole universe and are the peak of evolution. They should truly believe that in the present disastrous and dreadful world, the organisation and its leader are the only hope left for the salvation of mankind and the only guide for the oppressed people of the world toward blessing. If you believe this you would believe anything. Surely this is not the first time that someone has tried to impose his authority upon people under the cover of inviolability and it will probably not be the last time.
But, understanding the mechanisms behind enforcing such an unreal belief system is difficult even for those who have had personal experience of it. It is achieved by the intensive imposition of logic around justifications and by continuous slow abrasion of people’s trust, nationalistic and religious feelings. And finally one reaches a state of fake judgement that whatever he does is absolutely right because the leader ordains it.
Who is the victim?
London’s popular, controversial mayor, Ken Livingston, suggested that in the ceremony held for the families of the victims of the London Underground blasts, the families of the terrorists should also participate in the same way as the other families of victims of sabotage and violence. In thinking anew about the present era and examining the subject of terrorism with appropriate humanity, it is possible to realise that the terrorists themselves are in some ways also victims who have been caught up in a mental trap and lost their lives.
In 1999, Mehrnaz Foroughi Shad, a high-school girl, was on her way home in the teachers’ residential district. Suddenly there was an explosion…a shell launched by the Mojahedin wounded her and she lost the use of her right eye.
Roughly two years later, Arash Sametipur, a member of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation who had been sent from inside Iraq was arrested during an operation. He used his hand grenade to eliminate himself so that he would not be captured alive as he was instructed by the Organisation. The explosion took off his right arm.
If we look at the issue objectively, putting aside bias or dogmatism, we can conclude that these were both, to the same extent, victims of an ideology that uses terrorism as a tool to reach its political goals and does not count the human cost. We must bear in mind that some of the most honest, self-sacrificing and vulnerable youth of society have been brainwashed and then misused for these kinds of aims.
Since 1981, when the Mojahedin’s so-called armed struggle against the Islamic Republic of Iran began, the story of the victims of terror and violence is still continuing. Some were assassinated directly or lost their lives in explosions, leaving many families bereaved. Some victims were permanently disabled or disfigured by the acts of terror.
On the other side, some were either executed or killed in clashes with security forces, some became refugees in western countries or holed-out in the Mojahedin’s bases in the deserts of Iraq, leaving their waiting families in unfathomable sorrow. The black account continues, and Rajavi’s organisation still insists on using terror and violence to pave the way for its other policies.
Victim or criminal!
Iraq’s new constitution provides that members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party, regardless of their rank, who were not directly involved in killing, would not be prosecuted. In the case of the Mojahedin, should the members, who are actually themselves victims of the real mastermind behind these actions, be put on trial and be charged? Wasn’t it enough that on one hand they lost their whole youth and on the other hand their families suffered their absence for years. Should we now add to their misfortune. Can we correct the cause by punishing the effect?
I am writing not for myself, but on behalf of all those who are still in the mental or even physical prison of Rajavi’s organisation. I know full well that they have not given me the authority to be their advocate. But, I believe that so long as one has not stepped out of the organisation and has not made contact with the outside world and has not dared to think independently, they would hardly be able to free themselves from the obstacles and limitations of the organisation and think differently from what they have been positioned for. I believe that these people certainly are themselves victims, and before being put in jail to face trial and punishment, they should be helped and saved. I strongly believe and insist that a member of the People’s Mojahedin organisation in any rank, even if they have directly committed murder, before being a criminal is a victim.
Experience of salvation:
I wish I was not in Evin prison awaiting my own trial so that I could write more openly and show the way to my previous colleagues in a more appropriate manner. Perhaps it is best if I write something of my own recent experience to start with:
In summer 2002, my mother came to England to visit my brother who had left the Mojahedin some years before and had regained a normal life. I learned about this visit through my daughter and yearned to see my mother while she was there. Our visit happened after 23 years of separation. Perhaps it is hard to believe that my mother was the first Iranian person whom I had met with outside the framework of the PMOI since I joined the organisation. Whatever she told me about Iran and what was going on there, I did not believe. I even openly accused her of working for the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and that her mission was to persuade my brother to go to Iran and work with them. I admit that although I rejected my mother at that time, the sort of crack of which the organisation has always been afraid, was opened in the margins of my mind creating the grounds for further developments.
In April 2003, Jamil Bassam and I went to Syria to accomplish a mission for the organisation which resulted to our detention there. In the two months that we spent in prison in Syria, during which we were away from the internal atmosphere of the organisation and our supervisors and the daily Current Operations sessions, a channel between my mind and the outside world was gradually opened. The organisation always foretold that ‘if we were left alone for a moment without the guidance of our supervisor within the establishment we would be totally lost’. So, for me, the first doubts towards the organisation’s acts and policies and what they had inspired in me, occurred in my mind.
In June 2003, we were transferred from Syria to Iran and directly to Evin prison. There I suddenly faced some realities which, to be honest, I first tried to deny, since they were absolutely contrary to my indoctrinated beliefs.
Ebrahim with his late father, his daughter and his grandchildren in 2004
I vividly remember when I first visited my late father after 26 years. He said that he would not have recognised me if he had passed me in the street. Increasingly, I began to feel that there are other elements apart from the leadership, such as parents and nation and country, that I could love. My mother said that she would have preferred me to be in Evin prison rather than be inside the organisation in Iraq. Perhaps this may look odd to someone who does not have a good understanding of these concepts, but for those families who have suffered for over two decades without even knowing the whereabouts of their beloved ones, this makes sense completely. My late father also told me that he could close his eyes to everything about the PMOI but he would never disregard the mere fact that they went to Iraq and cooperated with Saddam in the war against Iran. And of course I was amazed how I – thanks to the Internal Ideological Revolution and the acceptance of the absolute authority of the Leadership – could accept such an obvious betrayal and consider it as in the best interests of the people of Iran.
The image that the organisation had painted for us of the situation inside Iran – by means of the massive fake propaganda in the west – was entirely opposite to what I experienced for myself. To describe a condition in which the structure of one’s mind falls apart bit by bit is rather difficult. Sometimes inside the prison I used to reach the point that I could not find a single good reason to carry on breathing. Many actually break down at this stage and lose the ability to find their real identity again. They would rather stay in prison for the rest of their lives and not step out to the open world again. I must truly confess that I had some bitter experiences in this regard until I was able to achieve some sort of stability.
I read and heard and observed a lot about the PMOI’s transgressions. Surely a thick book could have been written about the misdeeds of the organisation, quoting thousands of witnesses. But as far as I am concerned, what troubles me gravely is the very fact that the Organisation so misused the honesty and devotion and particularly the nationalistic and religious feelings of its members and betrayed their hopes and their trust.
What must be done?
In short, to save the mentally imprisoned colleagues is the duty and obligation of every person who has been saved today. The task is of course critical, sensitive and somehow dangerous. It should be considered that the victim would first line up on the opposite side. As soon as you step in this field you face an enormous amount of accusations and claims and false labels. If you lay your finger on the sensitive part – if you try to somehow break through the mental isolation of the members and try to familiarise them with the outside world – you will immediately be targeted with such ferocious accusations that it is unbearable for most people, unless they have high motives and are absolutely determined to try to help their friends and save them from their misery.
I say to all my old colleagues inside the organisation that if we are opposed to dictatorship then we should start from home. It is not possible to abolish totalitarianism by imposing it upon our own members. To establish a democratic system and grant it to the people, you cannot first deny it to them; and of course you could never topple one dictatorship and then restore democracy with the aid of a much harsher one.
Evin prison, Tehran, March 2006
By Ebrahim Khodabandeh