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Iran: People's Mujaheddin Organisation

Volume 698: debated on Tuesday 5 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will make representations to the European Union to deproscribe the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran.

My Lords, the House will be aware that the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran is currently on the domestic list of proscribed organisations. The House might also be aware that the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission recently determined that it should be removed from this list. Proscription at the EU level is based in part on the UK’s domestic proscription. Her Majesty’s Government are appealing the decision of the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission and the domestic proscription will remain in force until that appeals process is complete.

My Lords, that Answer is disappointing, to put it mildly. Does the Minister accept that the findings of the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission were absolutely clear: that the PMOI is not concerned with terrorism? In those circumstances, why do the British Government persist in the policy of appeasement of the mullah regime, which has yielded no benefit whatever and is doing a grave injustice to the peace-loving people of Iran?

My Lords, the noble Lord is, I think, aware that the POAC judgment turned around particular aspects of the decision. We continue to believe that the PMOI was responsible for a number of serious military attacks over a very long period of time and that its disarming was entirely pragmatic—in the event of the coalition forces forcing it to disarm after the intervention in Iraq. We have seen no evidence that the organisation has publicly renounced violence and terrorism. We have to be consistent in our views of terrorists. When we like the people whom terrorists attack, we call them “terrorists”; when it is the civilians of Iran who are attacked, we have a bad habit of thinking of them as liberation fighters. Terrorism and its tactics are objectionable irrespective of the target.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that in addition to the ruling of the European Court of First Instance and the judgment of POAC, after careful consideration of all the evidence, some years ago the American authorities in Iraq conducted a careful investigation into the allegation and concluded that it was totally without substance? Why do the Government cling so obstinately to a discredited allegation by a discredited Iranian Government?

My Lords, I cannot confirm to my noble and learned friend the circumstances of the US investigation that he refers to, but I certainly can confirm that we will respect the outcome of the appeals process.

My Lords, the judgment arrived at was that the behaviours of the organisation really amounted to a separation from the use of terrorist tactics. We just believe that there has not been a clear enough renunciation of those tactics. Instead, we see the decision as a pragmatic one in the face of American and British force. Until we are convinced that the organisation has really foresworn those tactics, we continue to believe it to be a threat to civilians.

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that the Government are consistent in their definition of terrorists? We have a great variety of exiled groups in London—Tamils, Kurds, people from the north and south Caucasus and so on. We host those groups, although a number of them support opposition groups in their own countries that are not always non-violent. Are the Government confident that that they are consistent in their approach?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a very important point. In the case of the Tamils, the LTTE is a proscribed organisation. It is quite difficult determining which groups in this country fall on which side of the line—and which support peaceful change in their countries and which support violent change and finance it. We look very carefully at that issue on a continuing basis.

My Lords, is not the noble Lord getting in a terrible muddle? Frankly, we supported violent revolution in Afghanistan when the Russians were there, Israel was set up by violent revolution, Ireland was set up by violent revolution and in South Africa we, to a certain extent, encouraged violence by the ANC. We cannot say that all violence against tyrannical regimes is wrong. We also supported the French resistance and the Dutch resistance in the war; Montgomery objected to that because he said it reminded him of Palestinian and Irish terrorists. Surely the Government are still in a muddle and ought to start thinking straight.

My Lords, the noble Earl will understand that we have always objected, most recently in the case of Ireland, to unwarranted attacks on civilian targets. There is a big difference between military campaigns that fall within the Geneva conventions and the rest of international law and abusive campaigns that target asymmetrically civilians. I hope we have a consistent policy towards such groups.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the PMOI, which is led by a woman, Madam Rajavi, has an agenda for peaceful change via a political process, believes in a human rights agenda, including women’s rights, and its policies are the sort that we should support?

My Lords, I certainly concede the point that the organisation is led by a woman, but I will risk the wrath of a portion of this House when I say that despite that, and despite what it says about the rights of women, the PMOI was involved in numerous terrorist attacks for a very extended period. At the time of the second Gulf War, it was considered by coalition forces to be completely assimilated into the security apparatus of the Saddam Hussein regime. Indeed, we had to disarm the organisation to the extent of 2,100 tanks, vehicles and artillery pieces. Since then it has made no renunciation of terrorism and disarmed only in the face of pressure from coalition forces; so, despite what it has to say on women’s rights, we are not convinced that in other regards this organisation has permanently renounced terrorism.

My Lords, it was encouraging to hear the Minister say that Her Majesty’s Government would accept the outcome of the appeals process. Can we accept that, as a clear implication of that, Her Majesty’s Government will accept that this organisation should no longer be a proscribed terrorist organisation?

My Lords, one must always fight terrorism in the context of the rule of law and respect for judicial decisions. One stoops to the standards of one’s terrorist opponents if one does otherwise. We will fully respect the decision of the appeals process.