News : Iranian opposition

Estimating Support for the MEK in Iran: Part 4

MEK's supporters in solidarity with the Iranian people’s uprising and to voice the Iranian people’s quest for regime change by Iranians in Iran.

For years Iran’s regime has claimed that there is little to no support for the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, Mujahedin-e Khalq or MEK) inside Iran. As we said in our previous piece, the fact that the MEK is illegal in Iran and support of them can be punishable by death means that it’s hard to determine the exact number of Iranian supporters, but there are some ways to estimate support. 

In a previous piece, we discussed the MEK’s satellite television channel Iran National Television (INTV or Voice of Freedom), which serves as a “truthful media outlet to foster a democratic Iran that respects the human rights of all”. The channel has millions of watchers per day, is supported almost entirely by volunteers, and funded by donations. If that is not supported by the MEK, then what is? 

We learned there that the regime punishes those who support the MEK channel, with one man even sentenced to death. Here we will look at another way to judge MEK support, which is by how many people own satellite dishes and how the regime reacts. 

Satellite dishes are banned in Iran, as they can be used to view channels not approved by the regime, such as the MEK channel. However, it’s estimated that 50-70% of the Iranian public watch satellite television and, according to sociology professor Fardin Ali-Khah, the dishes “can be seen everywhere”. 

In fact, a report by an Iranian parliament research center said that many Iranians use satellite dishes to gain “access to news and analysis”, including from the MEK, and found that the government ban on satellite dishes has “not achieved the desired result but [had] brought a craving for satellite use in most and the poorest villages and city suburbs”. 

Still, the regime routinely conducts raids to confiscate satellite equipment. In August 2013, the police removed some 16,000 illegal satellite dishes in just 19 cities, as well as shutting down a satellite manufacturer and arresting 107 people. One commander of the Revolutionary Guards even vowed to compensate Iranians who hand over their dishes. Clearly, the Regime is terrified of the MEK’s influence. 

The dishes were banned in 1994 to prevent people from accessing non-regime approved channels and those caught with dishes can be fined up to 3 million Iranian Rials (about $105). There is no prison time, so it is suspicious that these people were arrested. 

Abdul Reza Dashi, a commander of the Basij forces, said the “battle against satellite TV and social networks on the Internet is more important than the effort of achieving chemical and atomic weapons. This shows that the MEK’s influence is more of a threat to the regime than the US or Saudi Arabia. 

What’s more, an increasing number of Iranians are turning to satellite channels, including the MEK channel, for news, especially as the government is cracking down on the internet, even creating a white list of sites that are allowed. The Regime has tried to jam satellite signals to prevent Iranians from watching the MEK channel, so the MEK channel has to move its signal between satellites on a regular basis. 

In our next piece, we will look at the regime’s anti-MEK propaganda. 

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