Appeals court lifts restrictions on 17 members of Iranian exile group

PARIS (AP) _ The Paris Appeals Court on Friday lifted restrictions placed on 17 members of an exiled Iranian opposition group, including one of its leaders, three years after they were arrested in a huge sweep on suspicion of having links to terrorism.

The court lifted a series of measures, including one that forbids the suspects from leaving French territory and another that forbids them from meeting with one another.

The 17 are members of the Mujahedeen Khalq, the largest exiled Iranian opposition group, and include co-leader Maryam Rajavi, the wife of Iraq-based Massoud Rajavi.

They were among nearly 170 people arrested in a massive sweep on June 17, 2003, in which police seized computers and more than US$1 million as part of an investigation into terrorism links.

The 17 were then placed under investigation for alleged terrorism financing and criminal association in connection with a terrorist enterprise. The investigation is continuing.

The arrests set off dramatic protests _ including two self-immolations. Six others were injured after setting themselves on fire. Some other supporters went on hunger strikes.
The group insists it is a peaceful umbrella movement of exiled Iranian opponents of the Islamic Republic and calls itself the National Council of Resistance of Iran, based in Auvers-Sur-Oise, north of Paris.

The Mujahedeen Khalq, its main arm, fought as guerrillas against the shah of Iran, toppled in the 1979 Islamic revolution, and briefly worked with the clerical regime until a split. The group had a militia in Iraq but it was disarmed by the United States following the 2003 invasion.

“There is nothing in the files that allow us to talk of acts of terrorism … neither in Europe nor in France,” lawyer Patrick Baudouin said Friday.

The Mujahedeen have vigorously denied the French accusations, calling the arrests a “dirty deal” between Tehran and Paris meant to improve France’s standing with the clerical regime.