Last week, after a seven year legal battle, Britain’s Court of Appeal ended the listing of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran [PMOI/MeK] as a terrorist organisation.
However, as jubilant crowds of Iranians in London, Paris, Ashraf City Iraq and as far a field as the streets of Cleveland, celebrated an end to the PMOI’s terror listing in the UK, many in the American State Department must have been already wondering what impact the decision of the British Court might have on the group’s listing in the United States.
In legal as well as political terms the listing in each of the two countries carried serious consequences, eliminating the group from raising money or otherwise functioning in the UK and the US. It should be noted that, in respect to the US declaration that PMOI was a terrorist organization, the declaration was done by the Clinton administration at the request of the Tehran regime. It was a political gesture aimed at appeasing the Iranian radicals.
Faced with the judgment of a very powerful Court headed by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Phillips of Maltravers, the British Government, with no further legal recourse available to it, has had no option but to accept defeat. That means the group must be removed from Britain’s official list of terrorist organizations within a matter of weeks.
Meanwhile a judgment is pending in the European Court of Justice and the US State Department is due to embark on its five year obligatory review of its own list of proscribed organisations later in the year. And all this means that within a matter of months the PMOI, long the de facto opposition to the regime in Tehran, could become an opposition legitimated by the whole international community.
The British Court made some very significant findings in the legal battle, and they are findings which leave the US State Department with little justification for keeping the group on its own list of terrorist organisations. What the Court of Appeal found was that the PMOI ‘is not concerned in terrorism’ and it was a finding reached after study of a mass of evidence including classified material examined by judges and advocates behind closed doors.
The Court found no evidence of any act of terrorism or attempt to re-arm since 2003. In the words of the judges the PMOI “has not sought to recruit personnel for military-type or violent activities’ nor engaged in’ military-type training of its existing members.” But the Court went even further to emphasise that there was not ”any reliable evidence that supported a conclusion that PMOI retained an intention to resort to terrorist activities in the future.”
The process necessary for the de-listing of the group by the State Department is essentially the same as that which has taken place in Britain over the last two years, though a court decision is not required. In the October review the State Department will have to determine whether circumstances have sufficiently changed from the time the organisation was designated and they will not be able to ignore either the decisions of the UK Courts or the evidence put before them which indicated beyond doubt that indeed they have.
Looking at this in strictly legal terms it seems that when the US State Department carries out its five year review it will have no option on the basis of its statute but to remove the PMOI from its black list. But there is always the risk of politics intruding as they undoubtedly did when the PMOI was originally proscribed in 1997 by the Clinton Administration. (I assert that with confidence because in 2002 a Clinton administration official Martin Indyk said in terms “there was White House interest in opening up a dialogue with the Iranian Government. At the time President Khatami had recently been elected and was seen as a moderate. Top Administration officials saw cracking down on the PMOI, which the Iranians had , as one way to do so.”
It would of course be entirely wrong — and contrary to US interests — for politics to once again to intrude. I pray that they will not and that before long , after the review takes place, jubilant crowds such as we saw in London will be on the streets of Washington to celebrate justice done to an organisation working to bring freedom and democracy to Iran.