Terrorism Repression of Dissent and Disinformation form one strategy for Tehran

Systematic repression of dissent is a known feature of the Iranian regime It goes hand-in-hand with that regime being recognized as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. The history of Iran-backed terror acts is full of examples in which the targets were supporters or affiliates of domestic opposition groups, particularly the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). So it comes as absolutely no surprise when similar political violence is directed against Resistance activists who are operating inside their homeland.

The international coverage of this domestic state terrorism is, however, less consistent. The worst incident in many years occurred just last November, and yet international awareness of it is limited. And even among Western news outlets that have covered the relevant crackdown on dissent, many failed to recognize its true scale.

After Iranians all across the country participated in a spontaneous anti-regime uprising – the second in two years – initial reports by the MEK, which was already collecting eyewitness testimony, pointed to a high death toll, and the MEK ultimately determined that in a matter of just several days, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) had killed approximately 1,500 peaceful demonstrators. At the same time, to oppress further dissent voices, thousands were arrested, many of whom remain in detention today. Several have been handed capital sentences, indicating that still more casualties may be added to the long-term impact of this singular crackdown.

The international community must speak out more strongly against such crackdowns than it has done so far and should hold the regime to account for its crimes. The world community must do everything in its power to halt the planned executions, as well as exerting the type of pressure that may deter similarly violent responses when, inevitably, the Iranian people again rise up in opposition to the clerical regime. But the international community must also begin to promote a better understanding of what the regime’s crackdowns on dissent signify, or rather hear the dissent voices inside Iran who call for regime change.

Tehran’s sudden increase in violent repression last November was not arbitrary. It was a very deliberate response to a growing nationwide movement. More specifically, it was a response to a movement that is being shaped by the MEK. The regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei admitted as much in a speech at the beginning of 2018, while the first of the two recent uprisings were in full swing.

Khamenei said that the MEK had “planned for months” to facilitate the protests in more than a hundred Iranian cities and towns. The group’s leading role was clearly reflected in the uprising’s unequivocal message of regime change. Participants all throughout the country were heard to chant the same slogans, such as “death to the dictator.” These were unprecedented on such a grand scale, and they pointed to a level of support for the MEK’s platform that Iranian authorities had long attempted to deny.

The regime has used its “friendly journalist” and other agents in infiltrating Western media and pushing false narratives about the MEK and NCRI. Through networks of lobbyists and intelligence operatives, Tehran had insisted that the MEK was little more than a “cult” or a tiny group without anything approaching the means to challenge Iran’s established government. They further backed their bogus claim by stating that hardly any Iranian activists were speaking the MEK’s name when condemning the Iranian regime or outlining their alternative vision for the future of Iran.

But if one stops to think about that activism in the context of Iran’s penchant for political violence and international terrorism, one should understand the reasons people do not say the MEK’s name at the beginning of their uprising. Public acknowledgment of that support elicits the type of response that was seen during the 1988 massacre when 30,000 political prisoners were executed for merely supporting the MEK.

Tehran’s obsession with destroying the MEK is so severe that authorities have targeted individuals simply for being related to the members of the MEK. In 2013, security forces in Tehran arrested an Iranian couple, Hassan Sadeghi and Fatemeh Mosanna, along with their two children, for no other reason than because they’d organized a memorial on the two-year anniversary of the death of Sadeghi’s father.

Before dying in a Baghdad hospital, Gholam Hossein Sadeghi had lived in the MEK’s camp in Iraq known as Camp Ashraf. The compound was effectively the headquarters of the MEK until most of its residents were relocated to a former US military base, and then to Albania, following numerous attacks, sieges, and attempts at infiltration by Iranian operatives and their Iraqi militant allies. Each of these attacks served as a reminder of the connections between Tehran’s foreign terrorism and domestic dissent, and of the fact that much of that violence is squarely focused on the MEK.

Residing at Camp Ashraf was enough to justify the Iranian judiciary identifying someone as being “at war with God,” and thus automatically subject to the death penalty. But the same could be said of simply visiting the compound in order to meet with relatives. This was something that Amnesty International acknowledged in December 2010 following the execution of Ali Saremi, a 63-year-old man who had traveled to Camp Ashraf in order to visit his son approximately four years earlier.

Saremi was initially sentenced to one year in prison but was re-arrested sometime after his release in 2007 and accused of personally supporting the MEK. His subsequent execution was carried out abruptly and with little warning, as is typical of politically motivated executions in Iran. But Amnesty International’s statement could have served as a warning to the international community regarding the potential for further such executions. Yet the relative lack of response made the Iranian judiciary feel comfortable proceeding with the executions of Jafar Kazemi and Mohammad Haj-Aqai in January 2011. They, too, had been condemned as enemies of God simply for having visited Camp Ashraf.

There are many stories like this, and many others of people who have suffered lesser punishments simply for being related to supporters of the MEK. Gholam Hossein Sadeghi’s son remains in prison today, more than seven years after his memorial service, and the regime’s authorities have confiscated the family’s home and most of its property.

In a nutshell, the price of supporting the Iranian resistance and its cause of freedom and democracy in Iran is extremely high. Yet the uprisings in January 2018 and November 2019 speech for themselves. There is a powerful undercurrent of support for the Iranian resistance and its struggle for freedom running through Iranian society. These activities are capable of challenging that regime’s hold on power. One can only imagine how much greater this capability would be if the international community acknowledged the situation, and recognize the Iranian people’s right to resistance and overthrowing this regime.

Source » ncr-iran

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