November 15 marks the first anniversary of the major Iran protests which rattled the regime’s foundation. The November uprising happened almost a year after the 2018 nationwide Iran protests. Besides the uprisings’ extensiveness, the leading role of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) during both uprisings, much more terrified the mullahs’ regime.
Iran’s regime Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged the MEK role in January 2018, when the uprising was still in full swing. At the time, he said that the MEK had “planned for months” to build the movement, though his remarks were intended to explain away the apparent spontaneity of the uprising, rather than give credit to the Resistance for its organizational powers.
In 1988, the regime carried out a systematic massacre of political prisoners, during which the MEK’s members and supporters formed the majority of the 30,000 victims. Since then, Tehran has attempted to demonize the MEK, spreading this false notion that there is no viable alternative to the clerical regime to justify its grab on power.
Although the Iranian regime used the Western governments’ appeasement policy, to continue their demonization campaign of the MEK and parallelly target the dissidents inside Iran and abroad. In other words, the appeasement policy justified the regime’s human rights violations and terrorism, which go hand in hand with mullahs’ campaign of disinformation.
The January 2018 uprising showed people’s desire for regime change and highlighted the MEK role in the society. The regime’s immediate response to the uprising included dozen of peaceful protesters being shot dead by security forces, as well as about a dozen examples of detained activists being tortured to death. Numerous other arrests resulted in prosecution and multi-year death sentences, and similar crackdowns followed the activist community throughout 2018 – a period of scattered local protests that the opposition leader, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi referred to as a “year full of uprisings.”
However, the regime showed a new level of oppression during the November uprising. That month saw the announcement of a sharp increase in government-set gasoline prices, which threatened to make the situation even worse for a population that was already devastated by economic mismanagement at the hands of a regime more committed to export of terrorism than the people’s welfare. In response, people spontaneously took to the streets across at least 191 cities in all 31 Iranian Provinces, once again taking up the anti-regime slogans that had been popularized less than two years ago by the MEK.
The November uprising is now on the cusp of its one-year anniversary, and the Iranian people still expect an international action that might hold the regime or the Revolutionary Guards accountable for opening fire on them and killing at least 1,500 people. It took just several days for repressive authorities to rack up this death toll, but the final impact of the regime’s crackdown may be even larger, as thousands of arrests followed those killings and have since led to multiple death sentences, as well as countless instances of life-threatening torture.
The international community should act and hold the regime to account for its crimes, to prevent the regime from further human rights violations.
There is simply no reasonable explanation for the severity of the crackdown, other than one which acknowledges that the regime perceives the MEK and angry people as an existential threat. This is even more apparent when the domestic crackdowns are observed side-by-side with Tehran’s efforts to strike at the MEK and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), far beyond its own borders.
In March 2018, just two months after the initial uprising, the regime’s operatives attempted to organize an attack on a MEK compound in Albania. Two Iranian diplomats were ousted from the country as a result, but the regime only doubled down on its use of diplomatic infrastructure as a staging ground for terrorist activity. In July of the same year, the third counsellor of Iran’s embassy in Vienna was arrested in Germany after being identified as a mastermind of a plot to set off explosives at the annual gathering of Iranian expatriates organized by the NCRI just outside of Paris.
The diplomat-terrorist, Assadollah Assadi, even went so far as to personally provide explosives to two other operatives who were then arrested before crossing the border into France. All three, plus a fourth accomplice, are scheduled to stand trial on November 27. But there is still no clear sign of the incident leading European governments to make broader demands for accountability from the regime. This is in spite of the fact that dozens of European and American dignitaries were present at the NCRI event, some of whom would have almost certainly been killed or injured had the terror plot been successful.
The opportunity still exists for Western powers to adopt a more assertive policy in response to the recent terrorism and human rights violations. But the full history of Western relations with Iran suggests that this will not happen until European policymakers come to understand that the acceleration of those malign activities was sparked by the mullahs’ serious concerns about the growing influence of a well-organized, democratic Resistance movement.
To arrive at that understanding, those policymakers need only listen to the public statements being offered by the regime’s supreme leader and other high-ranking Iranian officials. Khamenei’s January 2018 speech was only the first of many in which he warned his regime to be on guard against MEK “Resistance units” taking on the leadership of popular uprisings and turning them toward organized efforts at regime change.
As recently as Tuesday, the supreme leader was offering a retrospective outlook on last year’s uprising and emphasizing that it was a “premeditated plot” to harness popular outrage and direct it toward the MEK’s vision. Khamenei tried his best to reestablish a narrative that says that groups “numbers were very low,” but it is difficult to see how this is compatible with his further observation that they aimed “to destroy and torch government centers, popular sites and start a war.” Indeed, the November uprising pushed the regime to the edge of downfall. Thus, to hold their grip on power the regime authorities killed 1,500 people for it, and more deaths are sure to follow unless the regime is stopped. However, the regime’s killing spree, never decreased the society’s restiveness, and has only delayed mullahs’ downfall for the time being. If their downfall is not looming, why mullahs keep warning one another of another uprising?