Analysis and background on the people’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran
CHAPTER 23/Using the Media The People’s Mojahedin of Iran, as we have seen, are past masters in the manipulative arts. Like many far Left organizations, they know the gears that run the media. And they are very gifted at “smoke screening” reporters: “For years, they continuously announced ‘the Great Day’, the unleashing of an insurrectional situation in Iran which would sweep away, under their direction, the Iranian regime. They practised a loud political and media activism, flooding press rooms with releases on their militants’ exploits’ and to denounce the abuses of the Iranian authorities. They are remarkably well organised and their ability to mobilise their sympathisers gives them the capacity to organise small protest demonstrations in Europe where they have refugee status. These take place every time that an Iranian leader sets foot on the soil of this or that country”. (224) Most editorial boards of the daily press and other publiccations were actually besieged. Under the cover of exclusive and first hand sources, the Mojahedin worked to maintain close personal relations with reporters in order to vector their propaganda. Unfortunately, this system really works, basically due to the defects of journalists. Permanently confronted with time constraints, too many editors take few pains to get to the bottom of things by checking the information and trying to see behind the curtain. In this context, the trap closed on them. In addition, the Mojahedin are superb lobbyists, “tracking” down political officials, deputies, senators, etc., to get a signature which is supposed to support the PMOI’s fight and provide recognition to it as the only legitimate opposition: “The Mojahedin conducted a public relations campaign among the Western press and among political personalities, looking for political support and financial reinforcement. Exploiting the West’s dislike for the behaviour of the Iranian regime, the Mojahedin put themselves forward as the alternative. To achieve their goals, they claimed the support of the majority of Iranians”. (225) In their internal logic, Rajavi and his friends consider that they were a solid investment with whom it was evidently good to be on the best of terms: tomorrow they would be the masters of Iran: “He called himself Afchine. Regularly, he telephoned our editorial staff to announce the ‘Great Evening’: the unleashing of an insurrectionary situation in Iran which would bring down the hated mullahs’ regime. The Mojahedin’s revolution was marching forward, he declared. Then there followed an avalanche of numbered press releases, exalting the ‘exploits’ of their militants and the sacrifices of their martyrs. For Auver-sur-Oise, the time was fast approaching..”. (226) And let anyone beware who dared to go outside the credo officially put out by the organ isation! Campaigns of ‘spontaneous protest’, in letters to the editor, in visits to the editorial offices to demand the punishment of ‘guilty’ journalists were organised right away. When there was not this kind of pressure, there were veiled threats directly by telephone. The media were so important to the Mojahedin that they did not flinch from increasing their activities, often only in an advertising’ mode. This is a way of proceeding by using the basic outline of media manipulation that Professor Robert Mucchielli describes: “The raw material that the media use come from several sources: violent actions by small direct action groups who (with normal or unexpected allies set off wild cat strikes, attacks, demonstrations or proclamations, and various rural or urban guerrilla campaigns) who work within the national territory; news on direct actions from friendly combat groups outside the national territory; errors and missteps by the enemy: adverse propaganda, facts and statements by the authorities, their representatives and their allies”. Many reporters have seen this on the ground: including events uniquely staged for the cameras. The system has endless possibilities. Creating News Professor Robert Mucchielli completes his analysis: “At the same time it is absurd to believe that the guerrillas of South America are the start of a general uprising. There will be no general uprising and the organisers of the revolution don’t need a general uprising. Guerrillas exist to create a climate that the media can exploit”. (227) To be effective in creating news, it is essential to have an experienced team of communicators, convinced of the ‘cause’ and throwing all their energy into winning the battle of the press: “The movement’s public relations were given to the National Council of the Iranian Resistance (NCIR), the Mojahedin’s political front, set up until this week in a complex of four villas in Auvers-sur-Oise. Speaking several European languages, with the heavy use of fax, electronic mail, and telephone calls, a small group of leaders regularly denounce the regime of the Iranian ayatollahs and claim responsibility for terrorist attacks. The realities of the latter are often difficult to verify. Every one of these PR specialists agrees on one point: the People’s Mojahedin and the NCIR are very popular in Iran, even though diplomats report the contrary from Teheran. Outside of Iranian territory, the NCIR has won extraordinary success in its ability to mobilise several thousand refugees during official visits of the Iranian leadership in Europe or to demand the liberation of their emblematic leader in Paris. This perfectly tuned media machine has brought them considerable sympathy among British MPs, as well as in the European Parliament and the American Congress, which see the NCIR as a moderate alternative to the Islamic regime in Teheran”. (228) It involves creating incidents in order, as Professor Muchielli explains, to isolate the enemy in the Western media landscape and to brand it with: “the impression given of its isolation and of public opinion’s condemnation of it, a fortiori, the condemnation of world public opinion”. (229) “At the time, the PMOI did not hold back from operating outside Iran and Maryam Rajavi was well placed to know this. In April 1992, she was the Secretary General when, after an Iranian Air Force raid on Iraq, Iranian embassies and consulates in 9 countries (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland) were assaulted by the Mojahedin. This included attacks on individuals and vandalism”. (230) ‘World public opinion was influenced in the same way: ‘spontaneous demonstrations’ of solidarity with this or that revolutionary action broke out thousands of kilometers apart and all the world’s press reported it”. (231) Dramatising simple situations, while distorting the facts to meet their own needs, the Mojahedin express their demands, published in press releases designed to create pity among the good people who are media consumers. They warn local authorities by subtle threats against them. In brief, they act in Europe as if they are in a conquered country. Yet, as political refugees and foreigners, they should be, at least, held to their responsibility of political ‘reserve’: staying away from public activities and declarations. One example from recent events shows the PMOI’s arrogance which it would never itself tolerate if it ever governed Iran: “The National Council of the Iranian Resistance (NCIR) demands that Maryam Rajavi should be freed as soon as possible’. That is the reason for the hunger strike which has now grown to cover about 20 cities in Europe and the United States,” declared Sunday Afchine Alavi, member of the NCIR’s Commission for Foreign Affairs. Massoud Rajavi’s wife, leader of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) ‘is not in good health and she has recently had surgery,’ stated Mr Alavi to the Associated Press: ‘We hold the French Government responsible for her health’. Maryam Rajavi and 10 others were placed in temporary detention during the night of Saturday to Sunday after they were charged for being ‘a criminal association in relation with a terrorist undertaking’ and ‘financing terrorism’. The number of hunger strikers on Sunday in Auvers-sur-Oise, PMOI’s HQ, was more than 100’, according to Afehine Alavi, who had himself stopped eating. The Prefecture of the Val d’Oise counted 47 men and 30 women who are on a hunger strike, compared with 40 the day before. Among the strikers, “ten have refused water”, according to the Prefecture. Forty protestors assembled in front of the gates of Dr Saleh Rajavi’s home. A physician goes through them several times a day to check on their health and the firefighters have established a permanent rescue station inside the gates. Sunday, toward the end of the afternoon, six persons were victims of collapse, the Prefecture stated. Five of the women among the strikers refused any treatment, while a man, not participating in the strike, felt ill, no doubt because of the heat. He was taken to the hospital, according to the same source.” (232) A Highly Refined Practise As real political agitators, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran have used many pretexts to demonstrate in the streets of Western cities, screaming and gesticulating every time a senior Iranian official visits on mission or even when an Iranian football team comes to play in Europe. “Several Iranian opponents were not permitted to cross the Franco-Belgium border and prevented from entering French territory when the Iran-United States match was about to played Sunday night in Lyon, Interior Ministry sources stated. These Iranians, coming from Germany and the Netherlands, whose number was not given, are linked to the opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin, according to the same sources. They went on to point out that most of them had no tickets to the match and ‘did not meet the requirements for visiting France’. They were refused entry, because they represented a ‘threat to public order’. Many among them, in two buses, then blocked the A3 1 motorway for an hour this afternoon on the border between France and Luxemburg at Dudelange, before departing without further incidents. In Lyon, one of the Mojahedin spokespersons, Mohammad Mohadessin, accused the French authorities of working in cooperation with the Iranian authorities to prevent opponents from attending the Sunday night match. During a press conference, they particularly cited the case of Moslem Eskandar Filabi, the wrestling champion who left Iran after 1979, who was refused entry into France for political reasons”. (233) Their methods are well worked out and extend widely: “Twelve Canadians of Iranian origin were stopped by the border police at Paris’ Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport. The French feared that they would create disorder during the visit to Paris of Iranian President Mohammed Khatami. They were returned to their country of origin on Tuesday morning, declared the Interior Ministry. The Canadian Embassy in Paris confirmed this, without giving any details. ‘We did nothing wrong. We were simply traveling to demonstrate democratically against the Khatami regime’, Esmat Ramazani, one of the twelve sent home, declared by telephone to the Associated Press. He complained of being molested by the French officials”. (234) Everything is orchestrated with care. “Several thousand Iranians (2,000 according to the police, 10,000 according to the organisers) demonstrated Wednesday... to protest against the visit to France of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. The demonstrators were answering a call from the National Council of the Iranian Resistance (NCIR) — of which the People’s Mojahedin is a member. They brandished posters carrying the slogan: ‘Down with Khatarni’, ‘Khatami out of France’, and ‘The Mullahs Don’t Represent the Iranian People; They Should be Expelled by the U.N.’. Some among them also carried flags with the hammer and sickle, with, in the middle a submachine gun. ‘Khatarni Terrorist’, ‘Khatami Killer’, they chanted. These were slogans announced from the rostrum by the NCIR at the entry to the Hall of Human Rights. They were also protesting against the police operations against Iranian opposition sites on Wednesday morning in Paris and its suburbs. This led to more than 30 arrests for questioning and searches”. (235) The Responsibility of Political Prudence What would happen if the Basques separatists or the Northern Irish factions marched through the streets of Washington, Moscow or Rome? Certain governments have lost their patience, careful to preserve public order. This was especially so in France in 1999 when rumors of terrorist attacks began to circulate and the authorities were once again alarmed: “A major police operation took place Wednesday in the Paris region against the Iranian opposition in exile just a few hours before the arrival in Paris of the Iranian Chief of State, Mohammad Khatami. ‘Threats of an attack’ were mentioned. Police sources emphasized that the operation was jointly led by the National Anti-Terrorist Division (DNAT, in its French acronym) and the Anti-Terrorist Section of the Criminal Brigade. Sixteen individuals were detained and 15 other opponents were arrested for criminal investigation in the Paris region. The DNAT asked the Prosecuting Magistrates for the right to carry out preventive searches given the threats of terrorist attack concerning the Iranian President’s visit’, judicial sources confirmed. These searches took place on the rue de Vaugirard, in ConflansSainte-Honorine and in Auvers-sur-Oise (Val d’Oise). For the moment, these searches have not allowed the confirmation of an eventual terrorist threat. These searches were carried out under article 706.24 of the Criminal Code which permits the Prosecuting Magistrates, under existing anti-terrorist measures, to ask the Chief Judge of the Paris Criminal Court to authorise them. Several dozen police officers, CRS (military anti-riot and anti- terror police), and the Mobile Gendarmerie Brigade took up position around the European HQ of the National Council of the Iranian Resistance (NCIR) in Auvers-sur-Oise, about 50 kilometres from Paris. The NCIR, an opposition organisation to the Teheran regime, is the political ‘face’ of the People’s Mojahedin. This group carries out armed struggle against the Islamic regime from Iraq. Like a fortress, the NCIR HQ includes several houses on the banks of the Oise River, surrounded by a wall and barbed wire. The opponents refused entry to the police forces, who had come to• search the place and check the identities of those residing there. The police were acting under a search warrant. Hashemi Farzin, a NCRI representative, denounced ‘police brutality’ and the fact that many in the Iranian opposition were refused entry into France in recent days. Massoud Rajavi, leader of the People’s Mojahedin, wrote a letter to French President Jacques Chirac protesting against the police action, which, according to him ‘had no legal justification’.” (236) At this time, the then-Interior Minister, Jean-Pierre Chevénement set forth what was at stake and recalled some basic rules: “Defending himself against any excessive zeal by the French police, he justified Wednesday the arrests of opposition Iranians given the necessity to avoid ‘violent demonstrations’ on the occasion of President Khatami’s visit. ‘Foreigners who benefit from France’s hospitality must respect our laws’, declared the Interior Minister as he left the Council of Ministers meeting. France’s interests must be taken into account, including by foreigners who have asked for asylum on our territory’, added Mr Chevenernent. The Minister of the Interior recalled the ‘incidents’ that took place during the football World Cup match between Iran and the United States in Lyon. They involved ‘thousands of opposition members’. ‘This must no occur again at the time of President Khatami’s visit”. (237) Germany was also not proof against street demonstrations by the People’s Mojahedin: “President Khatami Monday began a visit to Germany under high security protection. Berlin wants to avoid any extreme actions during the demonstrations of opponents to the Islamic Government. Abroad, Mr Khatami must confront another opposition: the National Council of Iranian Resistance. This movement in exile organised a demonstration against the arrival of the Iranian President near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. The demonstrators chanted many slogans against the Chief of State. The police counted about 7,000 participants. The organisers claimed 20,000, adding that 10,000 could not come because of measures taken by the German police. The police stated that they detained 50 persons for criminal enquiries and searched dozens of homes belonging to opposition members. The border guards prevented Iranians resident in other countries from entering Germany. Thirty Swiss members of the opposition had tried to enter Germany, according to the press release of the NCIR”. (238) When the responsibility of political reserve is so systematically flouted by the very people who benefit from residence papers in a host country which shelters them to save their lives, it is not astonishing that there would be police punishment for these repetitive violations.

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