Issues & Insights
Iranian student protests. Source: Fars News Agency

Dissidents’ Message Resonates Among Iran’s Elite Students

The theocratic regime in Iran is truly stumbling under the weight of its astonishing incompetence; A sensational ineptitude that is best illustrated in its pervasive corruption and economic mismanagement as well as its hideous response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Iranians.

Tehran is now rightly terrified of simmering protests like the November 2019 uprising, where at least 1,500 protesters were barbarically gunned down by suppressive forces in a matter of a few short weeks.

With the socio-economic situation getting astonishingly worse, the popularity of the main opposition and democratic alternative, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), has seen a dramatic rise, especially among the youth. They are more fearless and open about supporting the MEK. Alarmed by the trend, the regime has resorted to familiar barbaric tactics, arresting and executing hundreds of MEK supporters in the past two years alone.

Earlier this month, in reports that triggered a huge uproar across Iranian universities, it was announced that two elite university students accused of supporting the MEK were arrested and tortured.

Tehran’s no. 1 authority, supreme leader Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly expressed fear about the MEK, especially for leading recent uprisings in Iran. In a televised speech in January, for example, he lamented the “small and sinister” country of Albania for hosting thousands of “treacherous” MEK members. Khamenei added that it was the MEK that “drew up plans” for the nationwide protests in November 2019.

More recently, On May 17, in a video conference with a group of pro-regime university students, affiliated with the paramilitary Bassij, Khamenei expressed alarm at the growing influence and popularity of the MEK’s message among the country’s younger generation. 

Back in January 2018, Hassan Rouhani phoned his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to demand action against the “terrorist” MEK.

The regime’s words have been followed by action. According to a single revelation in May 2019, for example, the MEK announced the names of 39 supporters and members of “Resistance Units” arrested across the country. The intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi said on April 19, 2019, “Over the past year, 116 teams associated with the MEK have been dealt with.” And, in May 2019, Tehran’s “revolutionary” court sentenced MEK activist Abdullah Ghassempour, 34, to death.

Last week, the judiciary announced that Ali Younesi and Amir Hossein Moradi, two of the country’s most accomplished university students, have been arrested for “ties to the MEK.” Simultaneously, the organization announced the names of 18 others it said have been recently arrested as well. Nearly half are women.

The two students recently detained are studying at the country’s premier post-secondary institution, Sharif University of Technology (Iran’s equivalent of MIT). In addition, Ali is a gold medalist at the 12th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics, held in China in 2018. He had also won silver and gold medals at the National Astronomy Olympiad in 2016 and 2017. Amir Hossein won the Olympiad silver medal in 2017.

Ali was seen in April being brought home for a property search while in the custody of intelligence agents, with visible signs of head injuries and torture marks on his body. His parents were also taken away with him and interrogated for hours.

Reacting to the arrest of these two elite students, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said the detainees are subjected to torture as well as in danger of contracting coronavirus in the regime’s prisons. She urged the UN to take urgent action for their immediate release.

The two students are among the country’s best and brightest. And their attraction to the MEK as a democratic alternative to the ruling theocracy is not surprising and has caused the mullahs’ shivering out of fear.

Over the past four decades, tens of thousands of Iran’s most educated and “best of the best” have been tortured and executed by the regime for their support of the MEK.

In 1988, at least 30,000 MEK supporters in prisons across the country were summarily executed, in what the rights group Amnesty International has called a “crime against humanity.”

Among the many MEK sympathizers killed thus far by the mullahs have been the country’s “cream of the crop:” doctors (like prominent physician and provincial governor Ahmad Tabatabai), university professors (like law professor Mohammad Zolfaqari), leading authors (like Abuzar Vardasbi), famous athletes (like captain of Iran’s national soccer team Habibollah Khabiri), poets (like Mehdi Hossein Pour), and many other intellectuals and prominent Iranians.

Many of the surviving former friends, classmates, relatives, neighbors and professional colleagues of these bright leaders in Iran continue to provide moral, logistical, social and financial support to the MEK. And that is precisely why the regime is terrified.

In that context, the shameless rehashing of the mullahs’ propaganda against the MEK in some western media outlets is not only catastrophic but insanely unethical. One oft-repeated allegation is a deliberate lie that says: the MEK has no social backing in Iran, therefore we must preserve the current regime.

The latest arrests of Iran’s elite students and the ultimate sacrifices of thousands of MEK supporters before them, who have been among the most educated and conscientious in Iranian society, shows just how disgraceful and pathetic such venomous allegations are against the MEK.

Safavi (@amsafavi) is an official with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran.

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