Why does the MEK fear journalists?
The leadership of the People's Mojahideen Organization of Iran is very terrified by foreign journalists who conduct investigations from time to time about the conditions of the organization and its members present in a camp in the Albanian capital, Tirana.
The organization’s leadership understands that allowing journalists to reach out to its members and conduct interviews with them by asking questions might be embarrassing for the organization’s leadership that is trying to control the minds of its members for fear of defection in light of the lack of hope in life in those military camps where its residents believe that their lives are not as normal as the rest humans".
Recently, the MEK media machine published a lawsuit against a Swedish journalist who came to the organization’s camp in Albania, describing him as a “spy of the Iranian government”, while publishing the identity cards of Swedish journalist Evan Blanco Bravo and two children of the MEK members on MEK websites to verify their claim! This is not the first time that the MEK accuses journalists of collaborating with Iran.
During the past decades, there have been very few journalists able to enter the MEK headquarters, and in fact, the press relies on certain ethical principles that could seriously jeopardize the personality of the MEK.
Journalistic ethics are based on five fundamental principles: truth and accuracy, independence, impartiality, fairness, humanity and responsibility.
Therefore, if an independent journalist wants to search for the truth about humanity and justice at the MEK headquarters, he will be responsible enough to convey the evidence and reality he is witnessing in the camp, and this is the conflicting point between the MEK and the journalists, although the MEK leadership has been making efforts to portray itself as a democratic entity made up of freedom fighters; yet, facts have always been leaking from the group's cult-like structure.
June 13, 2003 may be the first time that the MEK leadership has discovered that the arrival of journalists in their camps would lead to a catastrophe for them even if they take care of all the elements of a democratic gesture, and the date was the day when the New York Times reporter Elizabeth Rubin published her scouting report on life inside Camp Ashraf, Iraq. The MEK leaders had allowed Robin to enter their large base in Iraq to show them different parts of the camp. She was received by a group of members conducting general interviews. Everything was under the supervision of the group’s authorities, but in the end it became clear that the title of the published article was: “Worship of Rajavi”.
Rubin wrote a very detailed report of what she had seen and heard at Camp Ashraf and openly described the MEK members in the camp as a "minor march of their business as in a factory in China."
Since then, MEK leaders have begun to be more cautious about allowing anyone working in the media to enter in any way; they do not allow any journalist to enter their camps unless they are certain that s/he is compelled to fully depict an idealized picture of their so-called freedom fighters.
Thus, many journalists and reporters who have sought to discover the truth of the world within the MEK and verify the testimonies of dissidents- have been attacked by the MEK leadership; they were described as Iranian spies and harassed by the group's camp guards.
One of the most recent accounts of these attitudes towards journalists occurred in 2018, when Lindsey Hillsum of the British Channel 4 attempted to shoot a documentary about Camp Ashraf 3 in Manz, north of Tirana, but she was prevented by the camp guards, and some members of the group came to the barbed wire and described her as "Terrorist" and "Iranian spy".
In September 2018, Hillsum published an eleven-minute video report entitled "Trump's Mysterious Advisers are promoting as an alternative to the Iranian government.
" She described the MEK as "a religious-political ideology that brainwashes its members, imposes celibacy on them and persecutes its opponents."
Activists in Albania at the time were making efforts to visit their daughter in the MEK. The Hillsum report also shows that Sameeh's parents were being attacked by MEK agents in the streets of Tirana.
BBC correspondents, Linda Presley and Albana Kasabi, went to the gates of Ashraf 3 last year, and were not allowed to enter the camp, so they limited their report to interviews with dissidents from the group residing in Albania and with the Albanian authorities, and in November 2019, they published a report entitled " Iranian opposition fighters who shouldn't think of sex."
They explained in their article:
Uninvited journalists are not welcome here. But in July this year, thousands attended the MEK’s event entitled “Free Iran” held at the organization’s camp in Tirana, and politicians from all over the world, influential Albanians and people from the nearby city of Manz joined Tirana, joined the thousands of MEK members and their leader Maryam Rajavi, in the magnificent hall, and US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Rudi Giuliani, addressed the conference.
Journalists also stated that the BBC was not able to show any of this to the MEK, because the organization refused to be interviewed. Despite all these precautions that MEK leaders are concerned about, invited journalists sometimes do not act the way leaders expect, Alice Taylor, a British journalist living in Albania, has been invited to attend the MEK big meeting in Ashraf 3 in August 2019.
She then posted her notes on the MEK’s annual big gathering on Balkanista’s blog and Twitter account titled “My Day with the MEK”. Her account simply reveals crucial facts about the MEK's internal structure, for example, writing about the way she was first received at the event:
The security guard confiscated my lipstick, facial powder, cigarettes, and things of lighter weight and put it in a plastic bag. I was advised that I could collect them afterwards. They tried to confiscate my mobile phone too, but I argued my one-month-old daughter's at home at home, so I needed to call, a member of the MEK was summoned, and after arguing my case, I was allowed to take my phone inside on the condition that I turn off the internet (I did not do this).
When she first introduced herself as a reporter to the event, she faced anger. She was shocked when she heard the man saying to her, "Who told you to be here?" she realized that there was no journalist, reporter, or other TV employee in the hall, she just saw some photographers who were surely members of the MKO. The journalist Alice, who was invited to attend by one of the leaders in the group, left the gathering after a few hours, for she got tired of the repeated speeches, "disjointed by periods of coordinated chants and waving flags."
Finally, another New York Times journalist entered Camp Ashraf 3 in Albania, Patrick Kingsley, and waited hours in front of the camp before being allowed to enter. His presence in Ashraf 3 was considered a new opportunity by MEK leaders to correct the impressions of former New York journalist Elizabeth Rubin.
However, his efforts to portray the camp as a beautiful looking place decorated with museums, a gym, music studio and café were unsuccessful.
Ahmad Jaafar Al-Sa'idi - writer specializing in Iranian affairs