Martin Franke, Frankfurter Allgemeine, June 10 2020:… In the camp of Albania, women and men live separately. In the evening, a small group meets with a commander for “ideological training” and for confessing sexual thoughts that members had during the day, said a former member of this group. The confession is used to create shame on members. Sometimes the commander would say: “How do you want to achieve freedom for the Iranian people if you have an erection every day?” Communication with relatives is prohibited, as is possession of a cell phone. However, they are not isolated from the outside world: dozens of trolls spread propaganda online every day. Devil Lives In Tirana . Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK or Rajavi Cult)
Devil Lives In Tirana . Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK or Rajavi Cult)
Frankfurter Allgemeine: The Devil Must Live In Tirana
BY MARTIN FRANKE
Terrorists or democrats? Albania is home to 2500 Iranian People’s Mujahedin. Their goal is to overthrow the Iranian regime. They also maintain good contacts in the German Bundestag.
“In the camp of Albania, women and men live separately. In the evening, a small group meets with a commander for “ideological training” and for confessing sexual thoughts that members had during the day, said a former member of this group. The confession is used to create shame on members. Sometimes the commander would say: “How do you want to achieve freedom for the Iranian people if you have an erection every day?” Communication with relatives is prohibited, as is possession of a cell phone. However, they are not isolated from the outside world: dozens of trolls spread propaganda online every day.”
In Tehran, the ayatollahs lead the Iranian people with a hard hand, imprison opponents, execute the convicted and impose dress codes on women and men. They have been in power for more than 40 years. Since then, exiled Iranians have been planning to overthrow the government in Tehran. There are several Iranian groups living abroad. The largest are the so-called People’s Mujahideen, of which 2500 members are said to live in a camp in Albania. According to their own statements, they want to form a democratic state from the Islamic Republic. They receive support for such a “regime change” from top American politicians, also from German members of the Bundestag, such as CDU politician Martin Patzelt.
In Brussels and Berlin, the Volksmujahedin – also called modschahedin-e khalq and MEK – do intensive lobbying. Members of this resistance group are standing in front of the government buildings and approaching MPs and lobbying with them with purposes. In this way, Patzelt became aware of the organization – and is now a member of the board of the “German Solidarity Committee for a Free Iran”, which represents the interests of the People’s Mujahideen in Germany.
The MEK is mentioned in the substantive work in the Bundestag. As a member of the Human Rights Committee, Patzelt thematized the People’s Mujahideen. Other well-known German politicians also support the association based in Berlin-Wilmersdorf as chairperson and advisory board: the former Bundestag president Rita Süssmuth and Otto Bernhardt, board member of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. They write guest articles for German newspapers in which they draw attention to the situation of exiled Iranians in Albania, hold conferences and visit Iranians in Albania. In an interview with the FAZ, Patzelt says that he is “in line” with the People’s Mujahideen.
It is a strange connection: The MEK are based on a mixture of Islam and Communism. Separated members, all of whom are rejected and labelled as agents of Iran, these members reported that torture and harassing members are common in the organization. The Guardian recently spoke to about a dozen separated members and reported that members were brainwashed. There is a cult-like ideology and culture atmosphere in this organization, and the leader of this organization Maryam Rajavi and her probably long dead husband Massoud Rajavi leads this cult-like ideology from Paris. Of course, Maryam Rajavi pretends that Massoud Rajavi is alive. She considers herself as the exiled president of Iran.
In the camp of Albania, women and men live separately. In the evening, a small group meets with a commander for “ideological training” and for confessing sexual thoughts that members had during the day, said a former member of this group. The confession is used to create shame on members. Sometimes the commander would say: “How do you want to achieve freedom for the Iranian people if you have an erection every day?” Communication with relatives is prohibited, as is possession of a cell phone. However, they are not isolated from the outside world: dozens of trolls spread propaganda online every day. Patzelt, a member of the Bundestag, cannot understand the accusation that the MEK is a sect. He sees their living together more like a monastic community, that they dedicate themselves to the fight with Iran and they accepted a hard living with obeying the regulations.
The history of the People’s Mujahedin is complex: the movement originated in the 1960s. They were instrumental in the fall of the Shah in 1979, but lost political supremacy within Iran. In the years that followed, they went underground, bombing Ali Khamenei among others. Between 1979 and 1981, hundreds of members were killed and thousands put in prisons. Thereupon the People’s Mujahideen fled to Iraq and fought side by side with Saddam Hussein in the war against his own compatriots. The Iraqi dictator equipped the Iranian fighters with weapons that they only had to surrender in 2003 with the invasion of the United States armed forces in Iraq.
Albania has been home to the People’s Mujahedeen since 2013 after being attacked several times in Iraq and no longer safe there. With the help of the United Nations, the United States and Saudi Arabia, the People’s Mujahedin were flown to the Muslim country in the Western Balkans until 2016. Nothing official is known about the contractual details. Albania is said to have entered into the deal under Washington’s mediation pressure and has received aid in the millions. Previously, Romania was also requested, which rejected the request. Observers in Albania are certain that the political officials have been greased for accommodating themselves. Corruption is common; Albania ranks 106th out of 180 on the corruption perception index.
A serious problem for many Albanians
Martin Patzelt, on the other hand, emphasizes that the reason for the admission is the hospitality of the Albanians. Together with Rita Süssmuth, the CDU politician visited the MEK camp in Albania in 2018. There Patzelt called “to put an end to the religious dictatorship in Iran”. The People’s Mujahideen live in Manza, about thirty kilometers from Tirana. * Inside there is said to be an infirmary, a wood workshop and a computer room.
An Albanian investigative journalist, who does not want to be named, says: “Nobody in his country accepts a group of people who can commit terrorist attacks. You never know when they will be activated.” He says that the possibility of getting weapons is not too difficult for MEK, especially in Albania.
There is hardly anyone under 50 among the People’s Mujahideen. Iran’s foreign intelligence agency is still targeting her. In America and Europe they were on the terror list for years. Among the members of the MEK, it is said in Albania, are mainly academics and well-trained engineers and doctors who joined the fighting units of the Iranian resistance decades ago. Their military clout is likely to be manageable. From a political perspective, the group enjoys little support in Iran. Some observers even say that the People’s Mujahideen are “highly hated” in their homeland. Even Patzelt, a member of the Bundestag, considers the chance of one day toppling the Islamic Republic’s political system to be slim.
For many Albanians, the Iranians are a serious and permanent problem in their country. The presence of the MEK has been causing diplomatic disputes with Tehran for a long time. The Iranian ambassador had to leave the country in December 2018. The Albanian Foreign Minister cited “damage to national security” as the reason. In mid-January 2020, the Balkan state expelled two other diplomats from the country. They are accused of having planned attacks on the MEK and being connected to the killed Iranian General Soleimani. Soleimani led the Quds brigades operating abroad. The US Department of Defense welcomed the expulsion and warned at the same time: “The Iranian regime continues to use diplomatic institutions in Europe and elsewhere as protection,
The killing of Soleimani had rated the government in Tirana positively. Albania is a NATO member and is firmly on Washington’s side. There is a George Bush Street in Tirana to testify to the deep friendship. Iran’s spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, on the other hand, recently spoke of a “very small but devilish state in Europe where Americans shared common ground with Iranian traitors”. The People’s Mujahideen are terrorists for the leadership in Tehran. The situation is different for the White House: Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and his former security advisor John Bolton have spoken several times at group events. Giuliani told The Daily Beast earlier this year, “I am one of those who are convinced that there must be regime change in Iran. “For the People’s Mujahedeen, Trump’s election as president was a godsend. However, the prospect of moving to Tehran has not become more realistic since then.
* Correction: Camp Ashraf 3 in Manza is not on a former university campus, as previously reported by mistake. Until 2017, the People’s Mujahideen lived on the former university campus near Tirana.
Devil Lives In Tirana . Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK or Rajavi Cult)
(Iraq shelters terrorist groups including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO), which has used terrorist violence against Iran and in the 1970s was responsible for killing several U.S. military personnel and U.S. civilians)
Linda Pressly and Albana Kasapi, BBC News, Tirana, November 11 2019:… For six years, Albania has been home to one of Iran’s main opposition groups, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK. But hundreds of members have walked out – some complaining about the organisation’s rigid rules enforcing celibacy, and control over contact with family. Now, dozens languish in the Albanian capital, Tirana, unable to return to Iran or get on with their lives. “I didn’t speak to my wife and son for over 37 years – they thought I’d died. But I told them, ‘No, I’m alive, I’m living in Albania…’ They cried.” MEK Terrorist Cult Members In Albania Who Mustn’t Think About Sex
MEK Terrorist Cult In Albania Members Who Mustn’t Think About Sex
The Iranian opposition fighters who mustn’t think about sex
For six years, Albania has been home to one of Iran’s main opposition groups, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK. But hundreds of members have walked out – some complaining about the organisation’s rigid rules enforcing celibacy, and control over contact with family. Now, dozens languish in the Albanian capital, Tirana, unable to return to Iran or get on with their lives.
“I didn’t speak to my wife and son for over 37 years – they thought I’d died. But I told them, ‘No, I’m alive, I’m living in Albania…’ They cried.”
That first contact by phone with his family after so many years was difficult for Gholam Mirzai, too. He is 60, and absconded two years ago from the MEK’s military-style encampment outside Tirana.
Now he scrapes by in the city, full of regrets and accused by his former Mujahideen comrades of spying for their sworn enemy, the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The MEK has a turbulent and bloody history. As Islamist-Marxist radicals, its members backed the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the Shah. But relations with a triumphant Ayatollah Khomeini soon soured. When the government cracked down hard, the Mujahideen had to run for their lives.
Neighbouring Iraq offered sanctuary, and from their desert citadel during the Iran/Iraq war (1980-1988), the MEK fought on the side of Saddam Hussein against their homeland.
Gholam Mirzai was serving in the Iranian military when he was captured by Saddam Hussein’s forces at the start of that conflict. He spent eight years as a prisoner of war in Iraq. But in time, Iranian prisoners like Mirzai were encouraged to join forces with their compatriots. And that is what he did.
Mirzai is now a “disassociate” – one of hundreds of former MEK members who have left the organisation since they moved to Albania. With the help of funds from family, some have paid people smugglers to take them elsewhere in Europe, and perhaps two have made it back to Iran. But dozens remain in Tirana, stateless and officially unable to work.
So how did the battle-hardened members of the MEK – formerly a proscribed terrorist organisation in the United States and Europe – find their way to this corner of Europe?
In 2003, the allied invasion of Iraq made life perilous for the MEK. The organisation’s protector, Saddam Hussein, was suddenly gone, and the Mujahideen were repeatedly attacked – hundreds were killed and injured. Fearing an even worse humanitarian disaster, the Americans approached the Albanian government in 2013 and persuaded it to receive some 3,000 MEK members in Tirana.
“We offered them shelter from attacks and abuse, and the possibility to lead a normal life in a country where they are not harassed, attacked or brutalised,” says Lulzim Basha, leader of the Democratic Party, which was in government at the time, and is now in opposition.
In Albania, politics are deeply polarised – everything is contested. But, almost uniquely, the presence of the MEK isn’t – publicly, both governing and opposition parties support their Iranian guests.
For the MEK, Albania was a completely new environment. Gholam Mirzai was astonished that even children had mobile phones. And because some of the Mujahideen were initially accommodated in apartment buildings on the edge of the capital, the organisation’s grip on its members was looser than it had been previously. In Iraq, it had controlled every aspect of their lives, but here, temporarily, there was a chance to exercise a degree of freedom.
“There was some rough ground behind the flats where the commanders told us we should take daily exercise,” remembers Hassan Heyrany, another “disassociate”.
Heyrany and his colleagues used the cover of trees and bushes to sneak around to the internet cafe close by and make contact with their families.
“When we were in Iraq, if you wanted to phone home, the MEK called you weak – we had no relationship with our families,” he says. “But when we came to Tirana, we found the internet for personal use.”
Towards the end of 2017, though, the MEK moved out to new headquarters. The camp is built on a gently sloping hill in the Albanian countryside, about 30km (19 miles) from the capital. Behind the imposing, iron gates, there is an impressive marble arch topped with golden lions. A tree-lined boulevard runs up to a memorial dedicated to the thousands of people who have lost their lives in the MEK’s struggle against the Iranian government.
Uninvited journalists are not welcome here. But in July this year, thousands attended the MEK’s Free Iran event at the camp. Politicians from around the globe, influential Albanians and people from the nearby village of Manze, joined thousands of MEK members and their leader, Maryam Rajavi, in the glitzy auditorium. US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, addressed the crowd.
“These are people who are dedicated to freedom,” he said, referring to the uniformly dressed and gender-segregated MEK members present in the hall.
“And if you think that’s a cult, then there’s something wrong with you,” he added, bringing the house down.
Powerful politicians like Giuliani support the MEK’s goal of regime change in Iran. The movement’s manifesto includes a commitment to human rights, gender equality and participatory democracy for Iran.
But Hassan Heyrany does not buy it any more. Last year he left the MEK, rejecting what he saw as the leadership’s oppressive control of his private life. Heyrany had joined the Mujahideen in his 20s, attracted by its commitment to political pluralism.
“It was very attractive. But if you believe in democracy, you cannot suppress the soul of your members,” he says.
The nadir of Heyrany’s life with the MEK was an evening meeting he was obliged to attend.
“We had a little notebook, and if we had any sexual moments we should write them down. For example, ‘Today, in the morning, I had an erection.’”
Romantic relationships and marriage are prohibited by the MEK. It was not always like that – parents and their children used to join the Mujahideen. But after the bloody defeat of one MEK offensive by the Iranians, the leadership argued it had happened because the Mujahideen were distracted by personal relationships. Mass divorce followed. Children were sent away – often to foster homes in Europe – and single MEK members pledged to stay that way.
In that notebook, Heyrany says they also had to write any personal daydreams.
“For example, ‘When I saw a baby on television, I had a feeling that I wished to have a child or a family of my own.’”
And the Mujahideen had to read from their notebooks in front of their commander and comrades at the daily meeting.
“That’s very hard for a person,” Heyrany says.
Now he likens the MEK camp in Manze to Animal Farm, George Orwell’s critique of the Stalinist era in the USSR. “It’s a cult,” he says simply.
A diplomatic source in Tirana described the MEK as “a unique cultural group – not a cult, but cult-like.”
The BBC was not able to put any of this to the MEK, because the organisation refused to be interviewed. But in Albania, a nation that endured a punishing, closed, Communist regime for decades there is some sympathy for the MEK leadership’s position – at least on the prohibition of personal relationships.
“In extreme situations, you make extreme choices,” says Diana Culi, a writer, women’s activist and former MP for the governing Socialist Party.
“They have vowed to fight all their lives for the liberation of their country from a totalitarian regime. Sometimes we have difficulty accepting strong belief in a cause. This is personal sacrifice, and it’s a mentality I understand.”
Even so, some Albanians worry that the MEK’s presence threatens national security.
Two Iranian diplomats were expelled following allegations about violent plots against the Mujahideen, and the European Union has accused Tehran of being behind conspiracies to assassinate regime opponents, including MEK members, on Dutch, Danish and French soil. (The Iranian Embassy in Tirana declined the BBC’s request for an interview.)
A highly-placed source in the Socialist Party is also concerned that the intelligence services lack the capacity to monitor more than 2,500 MEK members with military training.
“No-one with a brain would’ve accepted them here,” he says.
A diplomat says some of the “disassociates” are certainly working for Iran. Gholam Mirzai and Hassan Heyrany have themselves been accused by the MEK of being agents for Tehran. It is a charge they deny.
Now both men are focused on the future. With help from family in Iran, Heyrany is opening a coffee shop, and he is dating an Albanian. At 40, he is younger than most of his fellow cadres and he remains optimistic.
Gholam Mirzai’s situation is more precarious. His health is not good – he walks with a limp after being caught in one of the bombardments of the MEK camp in Iraq – and he is short of money.
He is tormented by the mistakes he has made in his life – and something he found out when he first got in touch with his family.
When Mirzai left to go to war against Iraq in 1980, he had a one-month-old son. After the Iran/Iraq war ended, his wife and other members of his family came to the MEK camp in Iraq to look for Mirzai. But the MEK sent them away, and told him nothing about their visit.
This 60-year-old man never knew he was a much-missed father and husband until he made that first call home after 37 years.
“They didn’t tell me that my family came searching for me in Iraq. They didn’t tell me anything about my wife and son,” he says.
“All of these years I thought about my wife and son. Maybe they died in the war… I just didn’t know.”
The son he has not seen in the flesh since he was a tiny baby is nearly 40 now. And Mirzai proudly displays a picture of this grown-up man on his WhatsApp id. But renewed contact has been painful too.
“I was responsible for this situation – the separation. I can’t sleep too much at night because I think about them. I’m always nervous, angry. I am ashamed of myself,” Mirzai says.
Shame is not easy to live with. And he has only one desire now.
“I want to go back to Iran, to live with my wife and son. That is my wish.”
Gholam Mirzai has visited the Iranian Embassy in Tirana to ask for help, and his family have lobbied the authorities in Tehran. He has heard nothing. So he waits – without citizenship, without a passport, and dreaming of home.
MEK Terrorist Cult Members In Albania Who Mustn’t Think About Sex