Mullahs’ regime has spent decades spreading disinformation globally about Iran’s democratic Resistance movement. The campaign has supplemented the direct repression of dissent in the form of political imprisonment, attacks on public demonstrations, and the outright killing of activists. The Iranian regime’s political violence has consistently failed to stem the growth of public support for the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Thus, mullahs have increased their demonizing campaign of the MEK.
Despite the regime’s attempts, there is international support of the Iranian Resistance. The National Council of Resistance of Iran hosts a gathering of Iranian expatriates every year, and it is regularly attended by a diverse roster of supporters from political, academic, national security circles in numerous countries spanning the globe. The latest iteration of that gathering, held virtually in July as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, included dozens of American and European speakers, including current and former congressmen and members of parliament.
Many of these speakers made a point of highlighting and condemning the disinformation campaign that they recognize as the regime’s desperate move to tarnish the image of its viable alternative. Some pointed out that allegations against the MEK have repeatedly faced successful challenges in court after appearing in Western media. Former US Senator Robert Torricelli, for instance, called attention to two judgments by a German court, one in March 2019 and another in July 2020, that ordered the removal of disparaging claims about the MEK from articles in Der Spiegel and Frankfurter Algemeiner Zeitung.
Terrorism, Repression of Dissent, & Disinformation: #Iran regime's strategy
Tehran’s obsession with destroying the MEK is so severe that authorities have targeted individuals simply for being related to the members of the #MEK.https://t.co/wiEjaZ7wbY pic.twitter.com/9jc2KNNdwo
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) August 30, 2020
“I’m embarrassed to tell you the same would have happened with the New York Times, but for the fact that our laws and constitution are different, and the courts cannot as readily undertake such action,” he said, apparently referring to a Times article that purported to describe the conditions of a PMOI compound in Albania which began to take shape in 2016 following the relocation of the MEK members from Iraq to Albania.
Like Der Spiegel and FAZ, the Times has cited the so-called “former members” of the PMOI in its reporting but has apparently done so while those so-called sources are the paid agents of the regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and many of them had unsuccessfully sought to infiltrate the group. The German court cases established that one source who had heavily influenced the relevant reporting was misrepresented as having voluntarily left the group. Documents from the PMOI showed that he had actually been ejected on suspicion of spying and had signed his name to that effect.
While it may be reassuring to think that having been exposed, this particular scheme will cease to have an effect on international perceptions, the reality is that the regime will continue using its network of “friendly journalists,” to continue its demonizing campaign of the Iranian Resistance. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that some of these media outlets continue to repeat the Iranian regime’s talking points and allegations against the MEK, calling it a terrorist group, despite having been freed of that designation in 2012, following multiple legal challenges demonstrated that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on the group’s part.
Outdated and inaccurate reports continue to occasionally be cited maliciously, by contemporary media to keep regime-constructed talking point and disinformation alive. This will no doubt apply to those talking points that have appeared in Der Spiegel and the Times, even if prior instances are removed from both of those publications. After all, both have already been widely cited in Iranian state media, to legitimize the talking points that that media created in the first place. And with supposedly reputable sources backing them up, the regime’s state media reports will inevitably be taken up by semi-professional networks beyond Iran’s borders, and ultimately recycled into major publications in the US and Europe.
From there, the same talking points will have to be challenged all over again, and the cycle will repeat until professional journalists begin honoring their commitments and reject the information they receive about Iran’s organized opposition from the regime and its agents. Such professional skepticism has always been imperative where the MEK and the Iranian regime are concerned, but it has become significantly more so in recent years, as the regime became engulfed with the crisis.
In January 2018, Iran was the site of a mass uprising against the clerical dictatorship, and the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei acknowledged that the MEK had “planned for months” to facilitate those protests and popularize uncommonly provocative slogans like “death to the dictator.” The nationwide movement was largely suppressed by the end of that month, but it reemerged on an even larger scale in November 2019. In the interim, Khamenei and other leading officials issued numerous warnings to their supporters about the threat that the MEK posed to their hold on power.
Now, the November uprising remains a recent memory, as does the regime’s panicked response, which killed 1,500 peaceful protesters. In time, the simultaneous displays of ruthlessness and vulnerability will surely prompt another outpouring of public demands for regime change. And until that happens, Tehran can be relied upon to step up its disinformation campaign against the Iranian Resistance which could and will play a leading role during the next uprising and to lay the groundwork for the democratic government that will be founded on the collapse of the current regime.
The MEK’s commitment to democracy is certainly among the features that have been called into question by the propaganda and disinformation emanating from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. But as US Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield noted in his speech to the NCRI’s July conference, that commitment has been consistent, unmistakable, and unequivocal.
Reflecting on his experience of investigating the MEK, ahead of its removal for the State Department’s terror list, Bloomfield said, “The more I looked, the more I found that the story of this group… has been erased. It has been entirely misrepresented. The MEK I learned was advocating democracy and freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the practice of Islam that is consistent with modern life, and not to follow a grotesque abuse of religious faith to support political tyranny.”
The organization he described is one that any modern democratic nation would openly support if their political calculations had not been twisted by decades of propaganda and misinformation. While the people of Iran showed their desire for regime change, and when the regime’s officials admit to the Iranian Resistance role in fulfilling regime change, global media outlets must purge themselves of the false statements and disinformation that have come to dominate the discussion of Iran’s Democratic Resistance. Those that have issued false reports about the MEK in the past should honor their commitments and side with Iranian people, rather than to rush to the aid of the Iranian regime.