Mohammad Hanifnejad, Saeed Mohsen and Ali Asghar Badizadegan, all veterans of the ill-fated Freedom Movement, wanted to set up a “progressive, patriotic, and democratic” Muslim group that would set the stage for the overthrow of the Shah and the establishment of a democratic government.
The MEK founders were not the first to advocate for this, but throughout the 1950s and 1960s, even since the US coup against the popular Prime Minister, Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq, dissident groups and anyone who advocated for democracy was brutally crushed by the Shah and his secret police force (SAVAK).
Over the first six years, the MEK founders and their 20 or so leading members were able to introduce a new, systematic and comprehensive vision of Islam that was nothing like Islam being spouted by the Shah. (It is also completely different from the current ruling mullahs, who consider that they are the only ones allowed to interpret Islam.)
However, in August and September 1971, the SAVAK conducted a series of raids on the MEK, arresting all MEK leaders and 90% of its core activists. They were subjected to months of imprisonment and torture before the founders and two members of the MEK’s leadership team – Mahmoud Asgarizadeh, and Rassoul Meshkinfam – were executed by firing squad on May 25, 1972.
These MEK members and leaders became widely known throughout Iran for their defense in the Shah’s military courts, where they defied the dictator and his corruption and became pioneers in the anti-Shah struggle. This struggle continued in their memory until the Shah was overthrown by the people in the 1979 revolution. (Although, the revolution was usurped by the mullahs.)
There was one member of the MEK’s original leadership that lived to see the revolution. Massoud Rajavi was arrested by SAVAK, tried in the Shah’s military tribunals, and sentenced to death, like the rest of his comrades.
However, his older brother, Professor Kazem Rajavi, who was well known for his academic and human rights work in Switzerland, launched a major international campaign to save Massoud’s life.
This campaign was joined by several prominent European and international human rights advocates, including Amnesty International, future French President Francois Mitterrand, and the prominent French Philosopher Jean-Paul Satre. Eventually, the Shah was forced to commute Massoud’s death sentence to life imprisonment.
Massoud took over the leadership of the MEK after the execution of the founders and, soon after his release, while taking back the organization from Marxist usurpers, he declared the mullah’s reactionary and backward interpretation of Islam as the biggest threat to the democratic wishes of the Iranian people.
He has continued to lead the MEK to this day, even though he was forced to flee Iran for his safety.
Fifty-five years after its start, the MEK is the Iranian people’s best hope for democratic change, but the world must support the MEK.