Friday, June 29, 2007

It must be true - the Iranian government says so

The news from Iran is becoming ever more disquieting – for the Iranian authorities, that is. The riots caused by petrol rationing have obviously shaken the regime because they have gone the way regimes always go when confronted with a problem: they have banned all local reporting of it and, to make sure, that nothing leaked out, switched off the text messaging system.

As the BBC reports it, the ban was circumvented by some newspapers, described as reformist. One way or another we know that there have been demonstrations in various parts of Iran and several police campaigns against people who show themselves to be disobedient to the rule of the Mullahs. (We have written about those campaigns here, here and here.)

It is, therefore, particularly odd for the European Council to persist in keeping the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI) on the list of terrorist organizations, without providing any evidence for this.

As my colleague and Christopher Booker have pointed out, this organization was first put on that list by the then British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, at the request of the Iranian government. It was British perseverance that put the organization on the EU black list. (Who says we have no influence in Brussels?)
Last December the lower court of the ECJ ruled that this was unlawful, not least because the PMOI had never been given sight of any evidence to show that it supported terrorism. But in January, in an unprecedented breach of European law, the European Council agreed with Britain that the ECJ's ruling should be ignored (a decision personally defended by Tony Blair in a letter I have seen, dated March 19).

In a cynical nod to the ECJ, the Council did, in March, send the PMOI 16 documents supposedly justifying its actions. This turned out to be a self-parodying "dodgy dossier", including a 10-year old article from Time magazine and items trawled from unidentified websites, which contained not a shred of evidence that the PMOI was engaged in terrorism. Indeed the dossier broke another EU law, in that it was legally obliged to contain current evidence, whereas none of its contents referred to events later than 2001.
There is a reason why none of the evidence stopped in 2001 – that was the year in which the PMOI foreswore violence. According to an article on EUObserver, the Iranian government has cast severe doubts on that. Well, not so much cast doubts as stated that it did not matter: once a terrorist always a terrorist. The British government and the European Council apparently agree with this, disregarding the fact that they have accepted similar assurances from Sin Fein/IRA.

As the same article reports the latest list of terrorist organizations still includes the “Mujahedin-e Khalq Organisation (MEK)...a.k.a...the People's Mujahidin of Iran (PMOI)”. And still no evidence has been produced. What about the ECJ decision, which ought to count for more than statements by Iranian officials?
The PMOI decision has seen a howl of protest from Paris-based sister group the NRCI, with NRCI spokesman Shahin Gobadi telling AP that "tens of thousands" of Iranian exiles will stage a march in Paris on Saturday.

The NRCI says that an EU court ruling last December, which annulled a 2002 decision to put PMOI on the register and freeze its funds, has not been honoured. But EU lawyers say the verdict does not cover subsequent decisions.
Right. Let me get this straight. There is a legal decision by a court that is authorized to decide in the matter. The politicians then go against that decision and announce that the legal judgement does not apply to what happened after it. Interesting.

Incidentally, in case you are wondering, Hezbollah is not on the proscribed list. In fact, it is a little surprising that Hamas is. Perhaps Iran is not as closely involved in what has been going on in Gaza as we think.

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