Hanifnejad was born to a working-class family in Tabriz, northwestern Iran, in 1939. He had a tough childhood, but he didn’t let that stop him from pursuing his studies in Tabriz.
He first became interested in politics as a teenager, when Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, a true reformer, came on the scene. Mossadegh was overthrown, but his revolutionary ideas never left Hanifnejad.
While getting his Masters at the University of Agriculture of Karaj, Hanifnejad continued his political activism and became involved with the Mossadeghist National Front and the Freedom Movement of Mehdi Bazargan, while also taking charge of a student association in the university.
Shortly after leaving university, Hanifnejad was arrested by the Shah’s secret police (Savak) for his political activism and sentenced to seven months in prison. There he met Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani, a progressive, anti-fundamentalist cleric, who inspired Hanifnejad to formulate his own ideas, which Hanifnejad wrote down and sent to friends outside for safekeeping.
Once released, Hanifnejad was drafted into the army. He learnt military skills and how the Shah’s dictatorship worked from inside the armed forces.
When his military service had finished, Hanifnejad approached his friend Saeid Mohsen to help figure out how to fight back against the Shah, who had banned all opposition groups. This was the start of the MEK.
Soon, Hanifnejad and Mohsen recruited Ali-Asghar Badizadegan and in September 1965, the three founded the MEK and began to study various philosophies and ideologies to advance the fight for freedom. They believed in fighting for the rights of the oppressed and a modern interpretation of Islam, which was incredibly popular among the Iranian people.
Gradually, the group grew bigger and more threating to the rule of the Shah, which is why the Shah cracked down on them so brutally.
In 1971, the Savak arrested dozens of the leading MEK members, including Hanifnejad, but Hanifnejad wanted to keep the MEK alive to fight for freedom another day.
He wrote in a letter to the MEK’s supporters, whilst many of his compatriots were undergoing torture, “If we draw the right lessons from this defeat, they will certainly lead us to victory.”
Sadly, the Shah still ordered the executions of all MEK leaders. Hanifnejad was offered the chance to avoid the death penalty by publicly repenting his decision to oppose the regime, but he refused, stating that the leaders must be ready to sacrifice anything to achieve freedom.
He said: “Our deaths will serve to motivate and fuel the future struggles of our people.”
On May 25, 1972, Hanifnejad, Mohsen and Badizadegan were executed, but their sacrifice saved the MEK and helped inspire others to continue the struggle.
Now, nearly fifty years on, the MEK is going strong and will soon bring freedom to Iran.