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From Sit-Ins to Success: MEK’s Advocacy Sparks Global Change

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Four-minute read

As dawn breaks, Saied awakens to the biting cold, gearing up for his daily journey to Paris. For nearly a decade, he and his comrades have stood in central Paris, exposing the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses. Despite the frosty morning, Saied remains resolute as he heads to the train station, ready to continue their unwavering mission.

“This is the least I can do for the Iranian people,” Saied affirms. They establish their stand in various locations, predominantly in central Paris. Without respite, without weekends, they persist. Their simple yet compelling display of Iran’s human rights violations is nearly impossible to bypass without pausing to absorb the stark reality captured in their poignant images.

“People frequently stop here, gaze upon the pictures, and are horrified to uncover the truth about Iran,” remarked Massoud, another stalwart participant in this enduring campaign. “Many are unaware of the regime’s heinous crimes against humanity, particularly those perpetrated in the 1980s,” he further elucidates.

“My brother, a promising university student, was executed in early 1981,” Saied recounts solemnly. “His only ‘crime’ was his support for Iran’s largest opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK),” he laments, his voice heavy with the weight of personal loss and injustice.

The MEK, regarded as the largest progressive group instrumental in the overthrow of Iran’s monarchy in 1979, paid a steep price for its dissent against Ruhollah Khomeini’s assertion of “absolute rule of clergy.” Unable to countenance this challenge to his authority, Khomeini initiated a brutal purge of the MEK’s supporters and members, fearing their burgeoning popularity. Tens of thousands faced arbitrary arrests, and summary executions, or endured unspeakable horrors within the confines of Iran’s prisons.

“I was just a little girl when the regime’s forces raided our home and arrested my mother and me,” recounted Azadeh, her voice tinged with the echoes of past trauma. “I can still vividly recall those dreadful nights in prison, the interminable hours spent waiting for my mother to return from interrogation, her body bearing the scars of torture,” she continued, her words heavy with the weight of memory. “My mother and I were fortunate to survive. Countless other children weren’t as lucky, orphaned by the regime’s cruelty and left to navigate the harsh realities of life without their parents.”

In the summer of 1988, Khomeini issued a fateful decree, consigning all MEK supporters and members to the gallows. In the wake of this chilling pronouncement, the sinister “Death Commissions” were swiftly established throughout Iran, charged with the grim task of singling out those aligned with the MEK and condemning them to death. The repercussions were staggering: over 30,000 political prisoners perished under the regime’s merciless onslaught, their lives extinguished in the name of ideological supremacy.

“Regrettably, we possess only a fraction of the images documenting the victims of this atrocity. The scale of this massacre extends far beyond what we can capture,” laments Hamid, engaged in conversation with a concerned French citizen moments earlier.

“We’ve maintained this exposition and stand for many years, braving all weather conditions and the ever-present dangers of attacks by the regime’s affiliates,” Saied declared resolutely. “I’ve been engaged in countless sit-ins and exhibitions over the years,” he continued, reiterating, “this is our duty.”

The steadfast supporters of the MEK have carried out extensive campaigns, often enduring unbearable conditions. In a poignant display of determination, when the trial of Hamid Noury, a prison official implicated in the 1988 massacre, commenced in Sweden in 2019, MEK supporters initiated what would evolve into one of the longest-standing protests and sit-ins outside the courtroom. Undeterred by temperatures plunging to -20 degrees Celsius, they persisted in their vigil.

Noury’s arrest upon arrival in Sweden, under the “Universal Jurisdiction” principle, marked a pivotal moment in the pursuit of justice. Subsequently, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, a verdict recently reaffirmed with the rejection of his appeal.

However, this sit-in was not the only act of resilience demonstrated by MEK supporters and freedom-loving Iranians. Prior to that, they staged a monumental 1000-day sit-in outside the White House and the U.S. State Department, fervently calling for the revocation of the unjust terrorist designation imposed on the PMOI. Their unwavering determination bore fruit in 2012 when this goal was ultimately achieved.

In the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, MEK supporters staged a sit-in in Geneva, stationed outside the U.N.’s European headquarters. Their impassioned plea to the international community resonated with a singular call: to acknowledge and uphold the rights of PMOI members in Iraq under the auspices of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

“I was there as well,” Azadeh recalled. “Alongside many others who had relatives in the MEK’s Camp Ashraf in Iraq, we gathered in Geneva. We were consumed by worry over their fate, but ultimately, we succeeded in achieving our goal,” she recounted with a sense of pride and relief.

Despite being designated as “Protected Persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention, the fate of MEK members in Camp Ashraf took a tragic turn when Iraqi forces, at the behest of Tehran, stripped them of their protection. In a series of harrowing raids, they were forcibly relocated from Ashraf to a site ominously dubbed “Camp Liberty,” which tragically became a killing field for many.

Camp Liberty was initially portrayed as a temporary haven, a promise reiterated by the UN Special Representative in Iraq, Martin Kobler. However, in a shocking turn of events, Kobler collaborated with the Iranian regime and the Iraqi government, subjecting residents to harsh conditions and prolonging their stay for several years.

When the UN and the global community failed to honor their commitments, supporters of the MEK and relatives of the Ashraf residents refused to yield. Through a series of sit-ins and numerous large-scale protests, they tirelessly campaigned for justice. Their relentless efforts, combined with the legal and political endeavors of the Iranian Resistance, compelled the UN to replace Kobler and ultimately facilitated the successful relocation of MEK members to Albania.

Saied reflects on the memory of these enduring sit-ins and protests with a sense of conviction. “This is the price of maintaining our independence,” he asserts. “The MEK has steadfastly refused to compromise its principles in pursuit of support from Western governments. Instead, we rely on the unwavering backing of the people,” he concluded, reaffirming the movement’s commitment to its core values.

For decades, the Iranian Resistance has upheld a grassroots diplomatic approach, garnering support from elected officials through the mobilization of the people and the cultivation of widespread popular backing.