Members of the European Parliament from a number of different countries recently signed a statement urging their own governments and the entire European Union to “comprehensively reassess” their policies toward the Iranian regime. Their appeal was motivated by unresolved issues related to criminal activities perpetrated by the Iranian regime in recent years, both at home and abroad. The statement implied that in absence of more assertive action by the EU and its allies, there remains an unacceptably high risk of such activities recurring.
The perception of Western inaction was underscored by the statement’s reference to an Amnesty International report that was published a full year beforehand. That report identified “at least 23 children killed by security forces” during protests that took place over several days in November 2019. The full death toll from that uprising was above 1,500, with most casualties being caused by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after it opened fire on crowds using live ammunition.
A subsequent Amnesty International report noted that as of September 2020, participants in those protests were still being systematically tortured in the regime’s detention facilities. Meanwhile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran had revealed the scale of those reprisals by reporting that at least 12,000 peaceful activists had been arrested during and immediately after the unrest.
The severity of Tehran’s response was no doubt influenced by the fact that the November 2019 uprising was not the first of its kind. A previous uprising had begun with economic protests in the final days of 2017, but as these spread to more than 100 localities they also took on a broader political message, embodied in chants such as “death to the dictator.” The regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei soon attributed these calls for his ouster to the organizing efforts of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
Khamenei’s conclusion was reinforced by a noticeable public response in Iran to the NCRI’s president-elect Mrs. Maryam Rajavi’s call for a “year full of uprisings” in the wake of the initial, nationwide movement. Tehran’s concern over that response was evident not just from the subsequent growth in its repression of domestic dissent, but also from its efforts to undermine the foreign support structure for the Iranian Resistance.
This phenomenon was given at least as much emphasis as Tehran’s domestic human rights abuses in the statement from European lawmakers. They noted that “the Iranian ambassador and three diplomats were expelled from Albania” as a result of their connection to a March 2018 terror plot that targeted Mrs. Rajavi and the MEK members, along with political dignitaries at a self-built community near Tirana known as Ashraf 3. The statement then went on to say that “three other diplomats were expelled from France and the Netherlands” after additional terrorist plots were uncovered that same year.
The worst of these was directed against a gathering organized by the NCRI just outside of Paris. The June 2018 terror plot was masterminded by a high-ranking diplomat-terrorist, Assadollah Assadi. Serving at the time as the third counsellor at the regime’s embassy in Vienna, Assadi was able to smuggle explosives from Iran into Europe using a diplomatic pouch that he carried onto a commercial flight. He then handed 500 grams of TATP to a pair of co-conspirators at a meeting in Luxembourg, with instructions to place the device as close as possible to Mrs. Rajavi at the Free Iran rally.
“On February 4, 2021, after two and a half years of investigations and trial, the Belgian judiciary sentenced Assadi to 20 years in prison and his three accomplices between 15 to 18 years in prison,” the MEP’s statement explained. The court case also established that this team of operatives was not acting upon its own initiative but had been directed by authorities high within the Iranian regime. The NCRI specifically revealed and attributed the planning to the Supreme National Security Council, an entity that facilitates foreign policy coordination among the supreme leader, the president, and other leading figures spanning all branches of the Iranian regime.
Of particular note in this coordination is the role of the Foreign Ministry, which could not have been unaware of Assadi’s activities. This point was reiterated in the MEP’s statement, which described the Belgian trial as having “left no doubt about the Iranian regime’s terrorist objectives” or the role that its embassies and diplomats play in pursuing those objectives.
For this reason, the statement places special emphasis on diplomatic relations between Tehran and the European Union, arguing that they should be promptly “downgraded,” pending verifiable commitments from Tehran regarding the end of terrorist activity and the dismantling of terrorist networks in the West. In absence of such commitments, the statement adds, the regime’s diplomatic missions across Europe should be shuttered in their entirety.
The MEPs believe that Tehran’s isolation should be economic as well as diplomatic, with pressure in that area being directed toward a comprehensive reform in the regime’s policies and behavior. Thus their urge their colleagues in Western government and industry to “condition any economic or trade relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran on the improvement of the human rights situation in Iran, an end to the regime’s terrorism on European soil, an end to its illegal nuclear and missile programs, and an end to its war-mongering in the region.”
The statement declares that “these are all elements of an integrated policy pursued by Iran, which has threatened peace and security in the region and in Europe.” It emphasizes that this policy is especially driven by the Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, agents of which “disguise themselves as diplomats, journalists or businessmen.” For these reasons the MEPs also believe that both institutions should be designated as terrorist entities, while Iran-backed “religious” and “culture” centers should be scrutinized for evidence that they are actually promoting fundamentalism and terrorism on the regime’s behalf.
The statement concludes by issuing a general call for accountability from “the leaders of the Iranian regime” before singling out the regime’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as the overseer of diplomatic institutions and personnel that “were involved in planning and preparing the large-scale terrorist plot” against a gathering at which attendance was over 100,000, including hundreds of political dignitaries from across Europe and throughout the world.
Such statements effectively confirm that the circumstances behind the Assadi case are still present throughout Tehran’s sphere of diplomatic influence, where they pose a persistent threat to exiled Iranian dissidents, European citizens, and Western interests in general.