History of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK/PMOI)

Ashraf 3- The headquarter of the MEK in Albania
The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK / PMOI)'s main compound in Albania - July 2019
Ashraf 3- The headquarter of the MEK in Albania
The 1950s and 1960s were a period of turbulence and repression in Iran. In 1953, Iranian monarch Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi staged a coup against the popular Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh and seized control of the country. He then used his secret police, the Savak, to silence all opposition groups.
It was in this era of oppression that Mohammad Hanifnejad, Saeid Mohsen and Ali Asghar Badizadegan founded the group that would later become the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) aka Mujahedin-e Khalq, the oldest and largest resistance movement in Iran. On September 6, 1965, these three Iranian intellectuals set out on a journey to bring freedom and democracy to Iran.
The MEK’s founders embraced an interpretation of Islam that rejected fundamentalism and affirmed the rights of all people to express their beliefs. This was the dominant interpretation of Islam in Iran prior to the authoritarian regimes which limited religious and political freedoms.
The MEK has always felt that the atheist/Muslim conflict promoted by the mullahs was an artificial battle that distracts from the real power struggle in Iran. The founders of the MEK understood that the real conflict was not between those of different faiths but between the oppressed and the oppressors.
These ideas were unprecedented in the history of Iran, and the founders’ commitment to stay true to their values set the MEK on a course that would pit them against two dictatorships and cost them more than 100,000 lives. Through their determination and sacrifice, the MEK has become admired around the world for its long fight for freedom and democracy. 

1965-1969: The Early Days of the MEK

The founders of the MEK, Mohammad Hanif-nejad, Saeed Mohsen and Ali Asghar BadizadeganDuring the first few years of the MEK’s existence, its founders focused on laying the groundwork for the movement’s future growth and success. They recruited new members and established leadership within the group in order to build strong networks of supporters. The MEK’s founders were firmly committed to the idea that the struggle for freedom is a science that requires study in order to be acquired, so they painstakingly researched all philosophical doctrines that could help them succeed where previous movements had failed. After exhaustive study, Hanifnejad and his co-founders decided that democratic Islam was the ideology best suited to the aspirations of the Iranian people.
The MEK’s founders also agreed that the struggle for freedom and democracy is a full-time job that cannot be achieved in one’s free time. With this in mind, they recruited members who were willing to devote every waking hour to the advancement of the MEK’s goals. Unsurprisingly, the first people to join the new movement were university students and young intellectuals. One such young student was Massoud Rajavi, a man who would go on to take a pivotal role in shaping the MEK’s future. 

1971: Crackdown and Executions

By the winter of 1969, the MEK had a philosophy, a goal, and a network of members, and they set out to form a network of activists to actively oppose the Shah’s regime.
This posed a threat to the Shah. In August of 1971, the Shah’s monarchy was nearing the highly-publicized celebration of its rule. A number of heads of state were scheduled to attend the festivities, and the monarchic dictatorship was worried that opposition to the event might prove embarrassing or problematic, so the Shah ordered a widespread crackdown on all individuals and groups who opposed his regime.
The Savak arrested and imprisoned more than 80% of the MEK’s members and all of its leaders. Although the crackdown hit the young organization, the resulting trials made the MEK famous in Iran. The MEK’s leaders were defiant in the Shah’s military courts and gained massive popularity among the masses for exposing the regime’s corruption.
Stories of the MEK’s resistance in the Shah’s courts and prisons soon spread throughout Iran by word of mouth, and the group expanded its base of support to encompass Iranians from every sector of society.
Mohammad Hanifnejad had been sentenced to death, but the Savak, in an attempt to minimize the threat posed by the MEK, offered to spare his life if he publicly disavowed his work with the MEK. He and the other founders of the MEK refused to compromise their beliefs, even though it meant sacrificing their lives. On May 25, 1972, Mohammad Hanifnejad, Saeid Mohsen and Ali Asghar Badizadegan were executed by the Shah’s regime.
Massoud Rajavi was the only surviving leader of the MEK after the Shah’s purge in 1975, thanks to an international campaign to save his life spearheaded by his brother, Kazem Rajavi. Kazem, a respected lawyer and politician in Switzerland, gathered support from a number of organizations and politicians and convinced them to pressure the Shah to convert Massoud Rajavi’s death sentence to life in prison. One of the politicians involved in the campaign was Francois Mitterrand, the head of the French Socialist Party and future President of France. 

1975: A Failed Coup within the MEK

In September 1975, the MEK was left without active leadership due to the Shah’s purge. The only surviving leader, Massoud Rajavi, was serving a life sentence in prison. A separatist Maoist group seized upon this opportunity to try to wrest control of the MEK and change its ideology.
The separatist group was relentless in its goal of taking over the organization and changing its core values and ideals. Those remaining members who stayed loyal to the MEK’s core beliefs were intimidated and oppressed by the separatists. Majid Sharif Vaghefi, one of the most senior members of the MEK outside of prison, was murdered by the separatists because of his refusal to accept their twisted beliefs.
The attempted coup nearly destroyed the MEK, but Massoud Rajavi was able to intercede from his prison cell and restore order to the group. In the fall of 1976, Rajavi issued a 12-point declaration reasserting the MEK’s core ideology and principles. This declaration became the set of guiding principles used by all MEK members in adhering to the organization’s goals.

The 1979 Revolution

The Shah’s regime weakened during the late 1970s due to a series of escalating nationwide protests. The absolute power of the monarchy began to weaken as protesters demanded political freedoms and the release of political prisoners.
Massoud Rajavi and the other imprisoned leaders of the MEK were released from prison on January 20, 1979. The MEK then played a key role in organizing the protests that led to the 1979 Revolution. The MEK’s goal in helping the people of Iran to overthrow the Shah was to bring democracy and freedom to Iran. One month later, the monarchy fell, and the mullahs seized control of the country. Because the leaders of the MEK had been imprisoned until just before the Revolution took place, they were powerless to prevent the dawn of the Islamic Republic.

1979-1981: Peaceful Protests against the Mullahs’ Theocratic Dictatorship

Mujahedin-e Khalq, peaceful demonstration against the reign of terror and suppression in Iran. On June 20, 1981, more than 500,000 supporters of MEK took to the streets of Tehran to protest the growing repression by the ruling mullahs. The demonstration turned in to a blood bath, as the Basij and IRGC forces opened fire in to the crowed based on direct fatwa from then, Supreme Leader, Rouhollah Khomeini.The MEK opposed the mullahs’ regime, founded by Ruhollah Khomeini, from the moment it began. The organization warned the Iranian people of the threat posed by the fundamentalist regime, including the repression of women, religious minorities, and opposition groups. The MEK quickly became known as the primary defender of freedom in the country, building a wide base of support among people across Iran. Young people and intellectuals were particularly drawn to the movement, and within two years, the MEK has become the largest political organization in Iran.
Meanwhile, Khomeini’s regime transformed Iran into a religious dictatorship, brutally oppressing women, minorities, and students. 70 members and supporters of the MEK were murdered by Khomeini’s forces during this period while participating in peaceful protests, meetings, rallies against the mullahs’ regime.
On June 20, 1981, the MEK held a demonstration in protest of the trampling of the Iranian people’s fundamental rights and freedoms by Khomeini and the fundamentalist regime. 500,000 people attended the demonstration in Tehran, which was not publicly announced prior to the event.
This demonstration would prove to be the final mass attempt to resist the new regime. Khomeini dispatched his personal army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), to the scene of the demonstration, where they opened fire on the peaceful protesters. 

Post-1981: Terror at the Hands of Khomeini’s Regime and the Founding of the NCRI

Just prior to the June 20th demonstration, Khomeini’s regime launched a crackdown on opposition groups. As the largest and most well-known resistance organization, the MEK was targeted specifically. Some members and supporters of the Mojahedin were executed in the streets, and thousands more were imprisoned, tortured, and then executed. Pregnant women, children, and elderly people were among the 120,000 MEK members and supporters murdered at the hands of Khomeini’s brutal regime.
Under the fatwas issued by Khomeini, the regime’s interrogators and guards were permitted to use any form of torture they could dream up in order to brutalize the Mojahedin. Torturers severed organs from the bodies of prisoners, gouged out eyes, and raped young girls before executing them. There are accounts of guards drawing blood from condemned MEK members before their executions in order to use it on their fellow guards and soldiers. Pregnant women were tortured and then executed.
On July 21, 1981, one month after Khomeini began his crackdown, Massoud Rajavi founded the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of Iranian opposition forces dedicated to replacing Khomeini’s religious dictatorship with a democratic, pluralistic, secular state. One week later, on July 29th, the MEK’s leaders fled Iran with the assistance of courageous officers from the Iranian Air Force. Massoud Rajavi sought refuge in France, where he continued the battle for freedom against the Iranian regime. 
The MEK and the Iran-Iraq War

In 1980, Iran and Iraq went to war, and the Iraqi army occupied part of Iran. The MEK took up arms to defend Iran, but when the Iraqi army retreated behind international borders, the Mojahedin called for peace, feeling that there was no longer any justification for war between the two countries.
Khomeini, however, refused to end the war until the Iraqi government was overthrown and replaced with a religious tyranny identical to his own. The ongoing war allowed Khomeini to ignore the demands of the Iranian people and to crack down further on opposition groups with claims that they were weakening the government and colluding with foreign enemies.
On September 10, 1982, Massoud Rajavi met with then-Foreign Minister of Iraq Tariq Aziz at the NCRI’s headquarters in Paris and signed a peace agreement with the Iraqi government on behalf of the MEK and the Iranian people. The agreement was proof that peace can be achieved between two opposing sides, and it served to show that the Iranian regime was the cause of the war’s continuation.
The peace agreement drew international attention and was endorsed by 5,000 politicians from 57 countries across the world.

1985: The Rise of Women in the MEK

Following the 1979 Revolution, it became clear that the fight against the mullahs’ regime was of particular importance to the MEK’s women members, and during the next six years, these women showed themselves to be fiercely committed to the cause of freedom. On March 10, 1985, Maryam Azdanlou (Rajavi) became the co-secretary general of the MEK, taking her rightful place in the leadership of the organization.
Today, the majority of the MEK’s leadership is female. The MEK came to recognize early on that the Iranian regime’s primary victims are women, and thus their strongest opponents are also women.

1986: The MEK Relocates to Iraq

On June 7, 1986, Massoud Rajavi left France under pressure from the French government, which was attempting to appease the Iranian regime to preserve its business dealings with the mullahs. Rajavi went to Iraq, where he founded the National Liberation Army (NLA) on June 20, 1987.
The MEK signed a bilateral agreement with the Iraqi government prior to its relocation stating that it would preserve its independence and that Baghdad would not interfere in the politics or operations of the Iranian Resistance.
The NLA became a major force in fighting the Iranian regime, carrying out hundreds of assaults against Khomeini’s armed forces. The largest of these, “Operation Eternal Light,” took place from July 2 to July 5, 1988, and targeted the entire Iranian regime military. The regime suffered 55,000 casualties in the attack, while the NLA lost 1,304 officers and soldiers.
Middle East analysts and observers credit the Khomeini’s acceptance of the 1988 ceasefire with Iraq to the NLA’s efforts.

A monument in memory of 30,000 political prisoners who were murdered during the 1988 massacre, by the Iranian regime. Most of those executed were members and supporters of the Mujahedin-e Khalq. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the Iranian resistance, is shown, paying tribute to the martyrs-September 3, 2016-Auver sur Oise, France1988: The Massacre of MEK Members and Supporters

July 28, 1988, was the beginning of what is known as the 1988 Massacre. Over the course of a single summer, the Iranian regime, based on a fatwa issued by Ruhollah Khomeini, executed more than 30,000 political prisoners, most of whom were MEK members or supporters. The mass executions have been called a crime against humanity by numerous human rights organizations and activists, and the perpetrators of this crime have yet to be brought to justice.
Khomeini issued a fatwa in the closing days of the Iran-Iraq War ordering the execution of all political prisoners in Iran who did not renounce their ties to the MEK. He appointed three-member “Death Commissions” to travel to the regime’s prisons and carry out trials that lasted only minutes. Those who refused to renounce the MEK were sent directly to the gallows, where they were hanged in groups and buried in mass graves.
Many of those who were executed had already completed their sentences and were awaiting release when they were called before the Death Commissions. Teenagers, pregnant women, and elderly people were among the victims. Bodies were not returned to the families of the victims, and many families never received notification of their loved ones’ fates or whereabouts.
The barbarity of the 1988 Massacre was enough to create conflict between regime leaders at the highest levels. During the massacre, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, then the heir-apparent to Khomeini, write a letter to the Supreme Leader protesting the decision to execute so many people in such a short amount of time. Khomeini responded to his letter by deposing the once-favored mullah and forcing him into house arrest.
After Khomeini’s death in 1989, then-regime President Ali Khamenei took his place as Supreme Leader. Montazeri remained in house arrest until his death in 2009. A number of the perpetrators of the 1988 Massacre have since gone on to hold positions of power within the Iranian regime, including Minister of Justice and Chief of the Judiciary.

The 1990s and 2000s: The Policy of Appeasement

The 1990s signaled a new era of rapprochement toward the Iranian regime. Western countries hoped that by appeasing the mullahs, they could reap the economic benefits of doing business with the Iranian regime and avoid the threat to global stability they posed. The MEK, as the regime’s largest opposition, paid the price for this failed policy, as did the Iranian people who continued to suffer until the regime’s oppression.
In 1997, the United States designated the MEK as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The designation was a goodwill gesture to newly-appointed Iranian regime President Mohammad Khatami, who billed himself as a “moderate” and a “reformist.”
In 2002, the European Union followed the U.S. and also designated the MEK as a terrorist organization. The effort by the EU was led by then-U.K. Foreign Minister Jack Straw, a staunch advocate of the appeasement policy toward the Iranian regime. Canada and Australia subsequently added the MEK to their own terrorist lists.
The policy of appeasement and terrorist designations led to political and military pressure against the MEK  that resulted in the suffering and deaths of many innocent people. Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty in Iraq suffered numerous bombing and missile attacks before their residents were finally relocated to Albania, and lives were lost in the process.
The Mojahedin was not deterred by these setbacks. Decades of struggle had made the MEK resilient and resourceful. Unwavering in their conviction, they turned to the courts. For more than fifteen years, the MEK waged a legal battle to remove their name from the terrorist lists.
In 2009, the MEK achieved their first legal victory and was delisted in the European Union. In the following years, the United States judiciary declared that the MEK was wrongly designated as a terrorist organization, and in 2012, it was delisted by the U.S. Department of State. Shortly thereafter, Canada and Australia removed the MEK from their terrorist lists.

2016-2018: The MEK’s Relocation to Albania

MEK members paying tribute to their martyrs-Ashraf3 Conference-July2019 In 2016, an international effort led by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi successfully completed the relocation of the MEK members still living in Iraq to a new home in Albania. The relocation came after years of missile attacks by the Iranian regime and its Iraqi proxies. The new location allowed the MEK members to focus all of their efforts on fighting for freedom and democracy in Iran instead of fighting off missile attacks. It was also a major blow for the Iranian regime because the mullahs understand that every step forward for the MEK is a step toward the regime’s destruction.
This step toward destruction happened almost immediately. The MEK continued to expand its base of support inside Iran after 2016, while discontent with the regime’s corruption and the overall state of the economy grew. Finally, in December 2017, protests broke out in cities across Iran. Over the course of two weeks, the protests spread to 142 cities in every province in the country. The first protests were mostly about economic concerns and corruption, but within days people were calling for regime change.
Even the regime’s leaders have been forced to acknowledge the MEK’s role in the uprisings and the subsequent ongoing protests. The calls for regime change have not stopped, and protests continue on a daily basis in cities across Iran. The long-held dream of the MEK is close at hand, and with the help of the Resistance Units fighting on the ground, the Ashrafis working endlessly in Albania, and MEK members and supporters around the world, Iran will soon be free.