Below is a piece I have written for the Platform Section on ConservativeHome.
An extraordinary headline, but a sad truth. The British government has bowed to pressure from Iran’s Ahmadinejad régime, and has proscribed the most prominent and effective opposition-in-exile to the Iranian government, the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI), arguing that it is a terrorist organisation. Worse, it has persisted in its proscription despite adverse rulings in the British courts, and in the European Court of Justice. No court has found any evidence that the PMOI is a terrorist organisation. Extraordinarily, our government has even persuaded the EU to back the proscription of the PMOI, in defiance of the ECJ.
On Dec 18th, I had the privilege of meeting the leader of the PMOI, Madame Maryam Rajavi, at a Press Conference in Brussels. So far as I could see, she was not carrying a Kalashnikov.
In August a group of 35 MPs and peers took a case to the British Proscribed Organisations Appeals Committee (POAC), a branch of the High Court, which has found the government’s position “Perverse”, and has refused leave for the government to appeal. Yet despite losing at every turn, despite failing to provide rational grounds for its proscription of the PMOI, our government intends as a last throw of the dice to go to the Appeal Court in a final attempt to overturn the POAC ruling. Following this ruling, both the British government and the EU now have a great deal of egg on their faces.
The proposition that the British government is acting at the behest of the Mad Mullahs of Teheran is not merely an opinion or an interpretation. It was Jack Straw, as Home Secretary, who branded the PMOI a terrorist organisation in 2001, and he admitted in 2006 that he did this at the behest of Teheran.
Let’s just recall what this Iranian régime is like. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to expunge the state of Israel from the map. His régime certainly had a nuclear weapons programme, and despite a recent report from the CIA that it has terminated that programme, many commentators believe it has been resumed. Iran is certainly importing enriched uranium from Russia.
We tend to think of Iran in terms of its destabilising influence on the region and on its neighbours. Yet we must not lose sight of its appalling record of internal repression, cruelty, torture and murder. The murder squads of the Revolutionary Guards have hanged, shot or mutilated 120,000 citizens since 1979. Many of the hangings are in public, “pour encourager les autres”. Young people and students pressing for basic democratic rights have been systematically beaten in the streets. Women are brutally suppressed for resisting the strict Islamic dress code, and a number of women have been publicly stoned to death.
But worst of all, as a condemnation of the British government’s craven appeasement of the Teheran régime, it is established beyond doubt that Iran is supplying know-how, equipment and support to insurgent and terrorist groups in Iraq, and not least in Basra. Let’s put it in plain terms. The Iranian government which we are appeasing is killing our soldiers. It is not merely a potential enemy (like the one we appeased in 1938). It is an actual enemy, currently engaged in military action against our forces.
What excuse can our Labour government possibly have? The truth seems to be that it has offered the proscription of PMOI as a bargaining chip in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In other words, we have accepted a promise we know Iran won’t keep, in exchange for making a statement we know to be false.
Labour claims that the PMOI is a terrorist group, and that the risk to the public demands we proscribe it. But it advances no evidence to support that claim. It is true that if you trace the genealogy of the PMOI back for enough decades, you can find links to Communist insurgency groups. But today, and for many years, the PMOI has been a legitimate organisation campaigning peacefully for freedom and democracy in Iran. That, surely, is what we want. It is certainly what a huge swathe of the Iranian people, and especially the emerging Iranian middle classes, are yearning for.
We in the West are agonising over the tough choices we face in Iran. Should we leave it to threaten its neighbours with nuclear weapons? Should we let it carry out its threat to destroy Israel? Should we launch a pre-emptive strike against its weapons programme? Should we pursue régime change? The problems with all and any of these routes are too obvious to require explanation. But one thing we can and should do is to provide help and support for an effective opposition movement in Iran.
Instead, a stubborn British Labour government is clinging to a wholly discredited and untenable position, simply because it lacks the courage to admit that it was wrong.