Even casual affiliation with the group puts Iranian citizens at risk of arrest and harsh sentencing, with one prisoner having been executed last year solely for the crime of donating money to a satellite television network that broadcasts PMOI messages. Such incidents go a long way toward explaining the general context behind ____ and Kohandel’s pursuit of asylum in the West. And their speeches to the press serve to provide explicit details from their own experience.
____ spent much of his 20s as a political prisoner, serving a prison sentence from March 2009 until February 2014, stemming from his activities disseminating information about the Iranian regime’s abuses and voicing public support for the resistance. ____ reports that several close friends of his were executed for their political activities during the course of his prison sentence. This naturally informed his decision to violate a legal ban on his leaving Iran following his prison term.
Kohandel, in addition to being a youth activist herself, is the daughter of a PMOI activist who is currently serving a 10 year prison sentence for his activities. Through him and through personal visits to Iranian prisons, Kohandel has a range of first-hand knowledge about the state of the Iranian penal system and the frequency of abuse and wrongful death.
_____ also lost a brother and a sister in an attack on the PMOI exile community of Camp Ashraf, Iraq, carried out at the behest of the Iranian regime in April 2011. In emigrating to the West, the two young activists thus hope to bring renewed attention to the plight of Iranian dissidents both inside and outside their home country.
It appears that they will have an attentive audience for their remarks, at least among some American and European lawmakers. A handful of US congressmen have maintained pressure on the topic of US responsibilities to Iranian exiles in Iraq since soon after the American withdrawal from that country.
During the occupation, the residents of Camp Ashraf voluntarily disarmed in return for documentation of Protected Persons Status, but the community was left defenseless after the US handed over control of the Iraqi government, which was by then closely allied with Tehran. What followed was the April 2011 attack by Iraqi forces, as well as two other such attacks, and the forced relocation of the community to the former US military base of Camp Liberty, in Baghdad.
Camp Liberty has since been likened to a concentration camp and is subject to an ongoing blockade of medical services, as well as occasional rocket attacks. The persistent danger to these people was raised once again by sympathetic US Senators and military officers in an Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Referring to the guarantees conveyed by the Camp Ashraf residents’ Protected Persons Status, General James Jones, a former National Security Advisor to President Obama said, “Every time we have fallen short of fulfilling this commitment, our country’s reputation has been diminished, and Iran’s regime has gained leverage against voices calling for democratic reform.”
Jones went on to express the view that the NCRI’s ten-point plan for the future of Iran is consistent with the US Constitution. He was not the only participant in the hearing to urge support for the NCRI as a whole, as well as insisting on safeguards for its threatened members in Camp Liberty.
Former Senator Joseph Lieberman declared, “We ought to be supporting [the PMOI]. They deserve such support. … It would threaten the survival of the regime, which is a very unpopular regime in Iran.”
The new refugees from Iran can be expected to convey some insight into the extent of that unpopularity, drawing on their experiences developing social networks of activists and participating in the 2009 Green Movement amidst protests against the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Their direct experiences with political imprisonment and prisoner abuse may also help to highlight how a reprehensible human rights record has contributed to that unpopularity. This too is a topic that has a ready audience among Western policymakers. On Thursday, Friends of a Free Iran, a multi-partisan organization within the European Parliament, held a meeting in advance of World Day Against the Death Penalty, in which it urged member states to contribute to resolving the Camp Liberty crisis and also to insist that overall improvements in human rights must be a precondition for further rapprochement and expansion of trade with Iran.