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A U.S. appeals court upheld a federal indictment on Friday against a group that raised money in California for the Mujahedin-e Khalq, an Iranian opposition group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
A U.S. appeals court upheld a federal indictment on Friday against a group that raised money in California for the Mujahedin-e Khalq, an Iranian opposition group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. The ruling reverses a district court's dismissal of the indictment. A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled the Committee for Human Rights, which had solicited financial contributions at Los Angeles International Airport, wired money to the Mujahedin-e Khalq despite learning of the designation. The Iranian group was formed in the 1960s to overthrow the government then ruling Iran and was involved in taking U.S. Embassy personnel in Tehran hostage in 1979, according to the panel. The group fled Iran after its clerical government came to power and settled in Iraq, carrying out terrorist activities with the support of Saddam Hussein's government "as well as, if the indictment is correct, the money that the defendants sent them," the panel wrote in its ruling. A district court held the law covering how groups are designated terrorist organizations is unconstitutional because only one federal court may review the designations. The appellate panel rejected that position along with the Los Angeles fund-raisers' argument their financial support for the Mujahedin-e Khalq was entitled to free-speech protections under the First Amendment. "What is at issue here is not anything close to pure speech. It is, rather, material support to foreign organizations that the United States has deemed, through a lawful process, a threat to our national security," according to the panel's decision. "The fact that the support takes the form of money does not make the support the equivalent of speech. In this context, the donation of money could properly be viewed by the government as more like the donation of bombs and ammunition than speech," the panel added. A lawyer for one of the fund-raisers described the ruling as "very disappointing." "I think the 9th Circuit missed the point," said attorney Stephen Berzon, noting his client sought an opportunity to show the Mujahedin-e Khalq did not meet the requirements for being listed as a terrorist group to undo the indictment. Under the federal indictment, Berzon's client faces up to 10 years in prison. He has not yet discussed a potential appeal with his client, Roya Rahmani. "Nelson Mandela's National African Congress was on this list from the early '80s through the early '90s," Berzon said. "He came to this country and was recognized as an African hero ... and money was contributed at his events at the Hollywood Bowl and Yankee Stadium."

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