7 Myths and Facts About the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK)
Myth 1: The State Department designated the MEK as a Foreign Terrorist Organization because MEK engaged in terrorism.
Fact: On October 9, 1997, a day after the MEK’s designation, the Los Angeles Times quoted a “senior Clinton Administration official” that the designation of the MEK “was intended as a goodwill gesture to Tehran and its newly elected moderate president, Mohammad Khatami.” A bi-partisan House Majority letter in 1998 rejected the designation as a “wrong headed policy,” which would only embolden the regime, and described the MEK as “a legitimate resistance movement.”
A House resolution was introduced with 99 bi-partisan co-sponsors (including chairs of the committees on Intelligence, Oversight, Armed Services and subcommittee on Terrorism) calling for the removal of the FTO designation. U.S. Court of Appeals, DC Circuit, found no evidence of terrorism, and gave a deadline to Secretary Clinton, leading to the September 2012 delisting.
Myth 2: The MEK was responsible for the death of U.S. military officers and contractors in Iran between 1973 and 1976.
Fact: According to independent studies published by the University of Baltimore, DLA Piper, and the Iran Policy Committee, which took into account newly declassified information, then newspaper reports, as well as interview with various U.S. Government officials and the survivors, the murder of U.S. personnel in Iran four decades ago was in no way related to the Mujahedin-e Khalq. All MEK leaders and officials and ninety percent of its cadres were arrested between September and November 1971 by the Shah’s SAVAK. All members of MEK central committee, including its founders, were executed by June 1972 (13 months before the first U.S. officer was killed in Tehran). The sole surviving leader, Massoud Rajavi, originally sentenced to death, was given a life term after an extensive international effort on his behalf. He remained incarcerated for eight years and was ultimately released from prison in January 1979, after the Shah fled Iran.
In 1972, a communist current took advantage of the absence of MEK’s Muslim leaders and carried out a bloody coup within the organization. It purged many Muslim members and murdered a number of them, including Majid Sharif Vaqfi and Mohammad Yaqini.
The leaders of this splinter group, responsible for the assassination of the Americans in Iran, Vahid Afrakhteh, Bahram Aram and Taghi Shahram were all killed. Afrakhteh was arrested by the SAVAK in 1975, confessed to the killing of the U.S. officers, and executed in early 1976. The Rockwell contractors were killed in retaliation for the arrest of Afrakhteh by his associates in August 1976. Aram was killed in a clash with the Shah’s security forces in October 1976 and Shahram was executed by the Khomeini regime following the 1979 revolution.
In addition, U.S. military officers testified before Congress that after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S. Government carried out a 16-month investigation of all MEK members based in Camp Ashraf in Iraq and found no evidence connecting any current members of the MEK to the killing of the Americans in the 1970s. The U.S. Government then recognized all the MEK members as “protected persons“ under the 4th Geneva Convention, and the U.S. military fully protected them.
Myth 3: The MEK supported the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
Fact: The MEK had no role in the U.S. Embassy occupation in 1979. The regime’s then-Supreme Leader Khomeini created the hostage crisis to consolidate power for the clergy and purge all liberal elements from the government and suppress the secular opposition. On November 4, 1984, on the fifth anniversary of the embassy takeover, then-Chief Justice Ayatollah Abdol Karim Moussavi-Ardebili said on Tehran Radio: “[The embassy takeover] brought about the fall of the Provisional Government, the isolation of the liberals and the confusion of left wing groups and the [MEK] and exposed their real faces. As Imam Khomeini said, this revolutionary move was greater than the first revolution.”
Ervand Abrahamian, an MEK detractor, wrote in his book, “The Iranian Mojahedin,” that the MEK’s criticisms of the regime at the time included: “Engineering the American hostage crisis to impose on the nation the ‘medieval’ concept of the velayat-e-faqih. To support the last accusation, they [the MEK] published articles revealing how the student hostage-takers were linked to the IRP [ruling Islamic Republic Party]; how the Pasdars [Revolutionary Guards] had facilitated the break-in; and how those who had refused to toe the IRP line were forced out of the compound.”
Myth 4: The MEK participated in the suppression of the Iraqi Kurds following the 1990 Persian Gulf war.
Fact: The source of this allegation is none other than the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).
This fabricated claim is absent of any evidence to support it has been long debunked. In a 1999 letter to a court in the Netherlands, Hoshyar Zebari, then- the foreign policy spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (KDP) and later-to-become Iraq’s Foreign Minister, wrote: “(We) can confirm that the Mujahedeen (sic) were not involved in suppressing the Kurdish people during the uprising nor in its aftermath. We have not come across any evidence to suggest that the Mujahedeen have exercised any hostility towards the people of Iraqi Kurdistan.”
In 1995, an official United Nations document refuted those allegations, noting that they were part of a well-orchestrated misinformation campaign by the Iranian regime to discredit the MEK. “From our independent investigation and discussion with parties involved, we find these allegations false,” wrote International Educational Development, a non-governmental organization with consultative status with UN.
Myth 5: The MEK ideology is Marxism or a synthesis of Islam and Marxism.
Fact: The MEK is a moderate Shiite Muslim movement. The origins of the “Islamic-Marxist” label dates back to early 1970s, when the Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, sought to erode the organization’s growing popularity among young Iranians. The Iranian scholar Afshin Matin-Asgari described it as “an ingenious polemical label” used by the Shah’s regime to discredit its enemies.
In a Washington Post op-ed, on August 19, 1981, former Undersecretary of State George W. Ball wrote, “The sloppy press habit of dismissing the Mujahedeen as ‘leftists’ badly confuses the problem. Masud [Massoud] Rajavi… is the leader of the movement. Its intention is to replace the current backward Islamic regime with a modernized Shiite Islam drawing its egalitarian principles from Koranic sources rather than Marx.”
U.S. military commanders who worked closely with the MEK in Camp Ashraf for several years testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in October 2015 that the MEK is not communist; rather it is Muslim.
Myth 6: MEK is a cult-like organization with little support inside Iran.
Fact: Tehran embarked on a multi-million-dollar campaign to demonize its main organized opposition by describing it as a cult to justify Western policy of appeasing Tehran. The head of a security minded think-tank told the media that he “was offered $80,000 by a man tied to Iran’s mission in Canada …They wanted me to publish a piece on the Mujahedin-e Khalq… to label it as a terrorist cult.”
Many U.S. military officers, in direct day-to-day contact with the MEK in Camp Ashraf for over six years, when Ashraf was under their protection, testified before Congress that they had seen no cult like behavior. To the contrary, the movement has had extensive presence in Europe and availed very open access to the media and the public. It organizes its annual rally in Paris attended by over 100,000 as well as public events in its main headquarters in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris.
The movement soon emerged as the leading opposition movement shortly after the 1979 revolution.
The rulers of Iran view the MEK as an existential threat due to its support at home, and undermining the regime’s Islamic extremist ideology among a vast majority of the Iranian population, especially the youth. MEK’s modern, tolerant and democratic view on Islam has been the antithesis to the Islamic fundamentalists and the velayat-e faqih system. The MEK has been the main victim of repression in Iran. In summer 1988, the Iranian regime, by direct order of Supreme Leader Khomeini, massacred 30,000 political prisoners, most members of MEK. Over 100,000 of its members have been murdered since 1981, and many of its supporters are currently jailed in notorious prisons across the country. Most of those arrested and sentenced to death after the summer 2009 uprising in Iran, belonged to the MEK.
Myth 7: MEK paid former U.S. officials and Treasury launched an investigation.
Fact: The MEK has not paid any former U.S. officials. In 2012, the Treasury Department launched an investigation into Iranian-American citizens who, in exercising their first amendment rights, had organized different conferences and seminars in which former U.S. officials spoke. After more than a year of investigation, Treasury Department sent letters to the communities, informing them that it had completed its review of the case and that no laws had been violated. The pro-Iranian regime lobby in Washington failed to silence those who spoke in favor of a firm policy against the Iranian regime.