New evidence has come to light of forced detainment and humanitarian abuses carried out by the Mojahadin-e-Khalq (MEK) at its fortified compound in Iraq, Camp Ashraf.
On Tuesday, Iraq’s Defense Ministry reported that several MEK members had escaped Camp Ashraf and turned themselves over to Iraqi security forces. One of the escapees, Abdollatif Shadvari, spoke with Radio Free Europe about why he fled:
I’ve been with this organization for 25 years. I joined the [MEK]from Pakistan and through a friend who has been martyred.
I haven’t had any contact with my family during the [past] 25 years because there was no possibility of contacting them. My family thought I was dead. Using the telephone, mobile phone, Internet, and even listening to radio is forbidden in the organization.
He told Radio Free Europe that MEK members are not allowed to leave the organization:
[MEK leader Massoud] Rajavi has said many times, whoever wants to escape from Ashraf will be punished by death and execution. Not only me, but many of my friends who are now in Ashraf don’t have the possibility to leave the camp. Escape is the only way.
Asked why MEK prevents members from leaving Camp Ashraf, Shadvari explained, “It’s obvious. If people [leave Ashraf], the organization will fall apart, there won’t be any Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization anymore.”
The MEK is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. Government, but it is undertaking a major lobbying campaign in Washington to have that designation removed. The organization has enlisted a number of prominent former U.S. officials and politicians who have said the MEK are “freedom fighters” instead of terrorists.
While terrorist-designated organizations are technically prevented from raising money and operating in the U.S., some of their most prominent supporters have acknowledged receiving a “substantial amount” of money to appear at MEK conferences in Washington, Paris and Berlin. The source of this funding remains unclear.
Those former officials have expressed support for the MEK because it is the “enemy of our enemy,” and because the group has claimed to be the “main opposition in Iran.” Often appearing alongside MEK’s unelected president Maryam Rajavi, the officials have called for the terrorist designation of the group to be removed in order to prevent humanitarian abuses that MEK says are carried out against them at Camp Ashraf.
But continued evidence, including Shadvari’s firsthand account, indicates that MEK commits abuses against its own members. Radio Free Europe’s Golnaz Esfandiari writes, “Former [MEK] members have described the group as a cult that promotes celibacy and martyrdom, takes away members’ children, and uses psychological methods to pressure members and force them to remain obedient and follow orders.”
RAND Corporation has reported on forced detentions and abuses carried out by the group, and Human Rights Watch has even documented cases in which MEK has tortured its own members to death.
The MEK’s denials of such findings may undermine the credibility of its other claims, namely that it has renounced terrorism.
As Shadvari and others share their firsthand accounts of MEK abuses at Camp Ashraf, the organization’s political supporters in Washington may be surprised by what they have to say.