Allen Tasslimi: Why Tehran’s media broke the MEK taboo

earth-newIran’s mass media are tightly controlled by the regime’s Ministry of Intelligence. This includes 16 nation-wide and 34 provincial TV channels, in addition to 10 satellite channels with a global reach. It has been a fixed policy of the state-run media to completely censor news about the activities of the main Iranian opposition group, the MEK. Tehran seeks to give the impression to the Iranian public that the MEK is insignificant and marginal at best. The regime is especially sensitive to the opposition’s charismatic leader, a Muslim woman capable of shattering the regime’s misogynist outlook, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi. When the daily Asia published a photo of a smiling Mrs. Rajavi in 2003, the regime quickly banned the newspaper and imprisoned its editor.

In this context, the recent broadcast of a long TV series on the MEK by Iran’s main state-run TV channel, Channel One, was unprecedented.

The TV series is mainly about Camp Ashraf, which was originally the main residence of MEK members in Iraq. Starting in 2012, the 3,000 Ashraf residents were gradually transferred to a prison-like camp ironically called “Camp Liberty.” After American forces left Iraq in 2009, Ashraf came under repeated and brutal attacks by Iraqi forces at the behest of Tehran. In September 2013, the mullahs’ agents brutally massacred 52 members of the Iranian opposition in Camp Ashraf. Dozens more lost their lives in other attacks since 2009 despite U.S. and UN promises of protection.

The recent televised program aims to propagate the notion that the era of fighting for regime change in Iran is over. By showing an abandoned Camp Ashraf, once an inspiration to millions of young Iranians seeking regime change, the reporter narrates the past military operations of the MEK against the mullahs. The intended message is that the Iranian opposition has lost its force and influence in the region. At the same time, it is implied that the mullahs’ regime is strong and stable. Which raises the question: If all this is true, why have the mullahs changed their longstanding policy of refraining from any kind of media coverage of the MEK, especially their charismatic leaders? Why pay so much attention to an opposition supposedly on the decline?

In 2002, thanks to its vast network of supporters inside Iran, the MEK exposed the Iranian regime’s clandestine nuclear weapons program for the first time. The revelations triggered UN inspections and international sanctions. With these revelations, which have been followed by other groundbreaking disclosures about the mullahs’ clandestine nuclear program- later verified by the IAEA- the MEK dealt a significant strategic blow to the regime. Even prior to all this, the MEK was considered an existential threat for the mullahs’ regime. The revelations have only served to harden that notion. That is why the mullahs need to discredit and demonize the MEK both inside and outside Iran in order to undermine the opposition’s political activities.

At the same time, the MEK’s profile is on the rise internationally. The regime is cracking down on MEK supporters to dissuade active support for the opposition by the Iranian people. Consider the growing percentage of political prisoners affiliated with the organization. According to Amnesty International, one of them, Gholamreza Khosravi, has now been threatened with execution as a lesson for all others.

The MEK’s international diplomatic campaign, which began in the early 1980s, has been increasingly gaining momentum in recent years. As a result of its massive international campaign to educate and inform the world public about the true nature of the regime in Iran, the MEK has been able to gain recognition and support from thousands of parliamentarians across europe and North America, and especially members of Congress in the U.S. A stellar list of former high-ranking government officials in the U.S., including joint chiefs of staff, governors, attorney generals, fbi directors, as well as their counterparts in Europe, including former foreign ministers, prime ministers, human rights advocates, and other dignitaries, have thrown in their weight behind the popular movement in the hopes of bringing fundamental change to Iran. These luminaries point to the gross human rights violations in Iran and demand that the rights situation be part of any negotiations with Tehran. More importantly, they support the MEK’s campaign to replace the current regime with a secular, democratic and non-nuclear republic, as the best hope for the future of Iran.

All this helps to understand why the mullahs have begun a massive media blitz to discredit their primary opposition. Despite their wishes, after the MEK’s departure from Camp Ashraf, not only has its influence not decreased, but the movement has actually evolved and matured into a formidable diplomatic opponent, succeeding in creating a vast political front across the globe to challenge the regime and its policies.  The MEK’s growing influence was on display just last month, when Mrs. Rajavi met the Syrian opposition leader, Ahmad Jarba, and drew the ire of Tehran, who has been shedding blood in syria since the inception of the uprising in 2011.

The Iranian opposition can no longer be censored by the regime’s media. Washington should take note and adjust its policy on Iran accordingly. In line with the changing realities on the ground in the middle east and Iran, supporting the main Iranian opposition should be an essential component of the new U.S. policy.

Allen Tasslimi is president of the Association of Iranian-Americans in New Jersey, a member of the Organization of Iranian-American Communities

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