NCRI – In a parliamentary debate on Iran at the House of Lords on February 9, several members of the House called for removal of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran from the list of terrorist organizations to pave the way for democratic change in Iran. Lord Waddingtion, QC, was particularly keen to see the PMOI removed from the list and the following are excerpts of his remarks in the debate:
Few doubt that Iran is a sponsor of terrorism, retaining close links with the most notorious terrorist groups in the Middle East. Few doubt that it has been making trouble in Iraq. Few question that with the intensification of its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, it is a threat to world peace. Few doubt that the regime is an evil dictatorship with a complete contempt for human rights. But after the experience of Iraq, I doubt whether anyone yearns for a war launched by the US, Britain or anyone else to topple the regime. Most people want to see changeÃ¢â¬âpeaceful change, if possibleÃ¢â¬âbrought about by the people of Iran themselves. One would like to see the West pursuing policies which make such change more rather than less possible.
I have come to the same conclusion as the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and many others on all sides of the House. It is clear that the PMOI is a member party of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is an alliance of a number of parties, individuals and groups, acting as a Parliament in exile, calling for an end to the present regime, calling for free elections and a democratic state. As for the PMOI itself, it appears to be by far the largest and most active opposition movement in Iran, and before being banned by the regime in 1981, had half a million members.
The US Congressional Research Service describes the organisation as, "a major opponent of the regime in Tehran, advocating democracy, human rights protection and free-market economics for Iran". Right now, the PMOI is active within Iran carrying out propaganda and political campaigns and it has proved itself the best source of intelligence about what is going on there. In 2002, it was the first to reveal Iran’s secret nuclear sites.
I pay close attention to the words of my noble friend Lord Hurd who doubts whether the exiles have the capacity to bring about change, but nobody has told me of any organisation other than the PMOI which offers any hope of bringing democracy to Iran. Nobody has told me of another organisation which also has broad support and which is also in a position to tap the huge discontent and yearning for change in Iranian society evidenced by the boycotting of the last presidential election.
Back in 1997, America put the PMOI on its list of terrorist organisations. There is reason to think that that was not so much out of concern for the organisation’s activities as to further a policy of rapprochement with the regime. The Clinton administration made what a senior US official described as, "a goodwill gesture to the new Iranian President Muhammad Khatami," and in March 2001, Britain followed suit, including the PMOI in a list of 21 organisations proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. I can well understand why that happened at that time, but the trouble is that by our actions against an organisation which has certainly never attacked western or British interests, we have been helping no one but the mullahs. By attaching the terrorist tag to the only organisation capable of opposing them, we have been legitimising their rule. We have enabled them to argue that, faced with what the West apparently recognises is a terrorist threat, they have been entitled within Iran to take stern, even brutal measures. And of course, proscription has certainly weakened gravely the ability of the PMOI to present its case in America and Europe. It has stopped it engaging in political activity to gather support and build up opposition to the regime.
In those circumstances, I ask the Government to consider whether the time has come to take the lead in de-proscribing the PMOI. I do not accept that the PMOI was a terrorist organisation within the meaning of the 2001 Act. Its operations were carried out against the military targets of a tyrannical regime. In a sense, all that is beside the point, as one can see from reading the debate in 2001. On that occasion, the Home Secretary was at pains to point out that, even after having come to the conclusion that a particular organisation is concerned in terrorism within the meaning of Section 3 of the Act, he had a discretion whether to list it or not. One can see why. If the powers in the Act had existed in 1938 and the British government of that day had sought to use them to proscribe an organisation bent on using violent means to rid Germany of the Nazis, I like to think that the government would have been condemned by every decent citizen.
The parallel is obvious. So long as we continue to proscribe the PMOI, we undermine and weaken the principal opposition to a regime whose continued existence is certainly not in our interests. We make it easy for the regime to brush aside the so-called reformers in its own ranks and enable them to give the impression to their own people that the West, if not on the side of the regime, is against those who oppose it. We are helping to prop up a tyrannical regime with a complete contempt for human rights. If on the other hand we de-proscribe the PMOI, we will be signalling support for the democratic change in Iran which we surely all desire.