By Syed Zafar Mehdi
Luisa Hommerich, a Berlin-based investigative journalist with the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, couldn't hide her joy and thrill on February 10 as she triumphantly announced the end of a protracted legal battle against a terrorist cult.
Hamburg district court had a few days ago dismissed a lawsuit filed by the German branch of the dreaded West-backed terrorist group, Mujahedin -e-Khalq Organization (MKO), after a legal fight that lasted more than ten months.
The lawsuit, in particular, took umbrage to an investigative report published in Zeit Magazine on October 28, 2021, which laid bare how the anti-Iran terrorist cult, with overt and covert support from German authorities, trained refugee children from the city of Cologne as “soldiers” in a military camp in Iraq’s Diyala Governorate in the 1990s.
Hommerich, who painstakingly worked for months on the explosive story, took to Twitter to declare that the MKO had been "unsuccessful" in the legal battle, and hastened to add that the original article was removed from the paywall "to celebrate".
MKO, she explained in one of her tweets, was "once on terror lists (of Western governments)", but "are today engaged in lobbying work and maintain contact with (Western) politicians", pointing to the collusion between the terrorist cult and Western states.
In a press statement released on February 23, Zeit publishing group said the lawsuit filed by the MKO terrorist cult had been "rejected" by the Hamburg court, paving way for the re-distribution of the October 2021 report "in its original form".
The default judgment in the case was issued on January 28 and delivered to the publishing group on February 7, which announced it through a press statement on February 9, which editors at the publishing group shared with the Press TV website.
The statement said the Albania-based terrorist cult and its local branch in Germany were "supported by some members of the Bundestag", referring to the German federal parliament.
The lawsuit filed by the MKO, in particular, took exception to "eight passages" in the Zeit Magazin article and pressed for their removal. The magazine stood its ground, triggering a long-drawn-out legal battle that ended earlier this month.
In a preliminary verdict on January 19, the Hamburg court found most passages "lawful" and "rejected the request for an injunction", the Zeit statement noted, adding that the main protagonist of the story, Amin Golmaryami, an Iranian-German national, was indeed recruited as a “child soldier” by the terrorist cult.
The court battle kicked off in April 2022, almost six months after the article was first published. In a Twitter post on April 22, Hommerich said she had reported about Golmaryami being "smuggled into Iraq" by MKO sleuths and was ready to "defend the investigation" before the Hamburg district court.
Later that day, after appearing in the court, the Die Zeit journalist said Golmaryami and five other victims of the terrorist cult had turned up to "testify as witnesses" but "were not heard".
"One of them demonstrated in front of the courthouse, and in front of about 30 MKO supporters brought by the other side," she wrote, sharing pictures of a person holding a placard that read "I was a child soldier, I demand justice".
The report, originally published in Zeit Magazin on October 27, revolved around Golmaryami, who came to Germany as a refugee child in the early 1980s.
At the tender age of 15, he and many other young Iranian refugee children in Cologne were forcibly taken to Iraq to be trained as "child soldiers" against the Islamic Republic.
While other victims chose not to narrate their harrowing ordeal in the captivity of the MKO terrorist cult due to safety concerns, Golmaryami decided to break his silence.
"Blame the man himself with his wishes - and the family. You have to renounce all of that. Only through devotion to a leader can one become "pure"," the Zeit Magazin report cited Golmaryami as saying, recalling how he and his compatriots were indoctrinated by the Maryam Rajavi-led extremist cult.
The investigation revealed that at least 40 children and young people, who had come to Cologne as refugees without their parents, were smuggled into Iraq in the mid-1990s.
Golmaryami, born in southwestern Iran's Abadan city, was one of them who spent at least 12 years at Camp Ashraf, the notorious headquarters of the terrorist cult at the time.
The camp has since been closed and shifted to Albania on southeastern Europe’s Balkan peninsula, where among others, Golmaryami's mother also lives.
She was "brainwashed", her son exclaims, distraught and helpless.
Golmaryami was allowed to see his mother last time in the summer of 2019, in a restaurant in Tirana. When he offered to help her escape the camp, she became aggressive.
"Only traitors and agents of the Iranian regime say things like that," she yelled at him, the report noted. "He no longer hopes to be able to save her."
The report quoted Golmaryami as saying that he "internally resisted being brainwashed" by the MKO. "Only rarely did he express his true thoughts. That's how he kept a clear head.”
"Most of the 40 minors who are believed to have been smuggled into Iraq from Cologne (by the MKO) have reportedly gotten out in the meantime. Many are said to be living in Cologne again," the report stated.
"At least 10, however, are said to be with the People's Mujahideen (MKO terrorist cult) somewhere in the world. Some are said to have died in attacks in Iraq."
MKO’s German wing
In a follow-up article for Zeit Online in November 2021, reproduced by other news outlets, Hommerich said Golmaryami and others like him were "manipulated and detained" by MKO agents using "psychological techniques", "mind control", and "brainwashing".
Based on months-long research, archive material and internal documents, Zeit Online revealed that the terror cult operates in Europe and the US under the label of the 'National Council of Resistance Iran', with German headquarters in a posh neighborhood of Berlin.
The group enjoys the support of the German Solidarity Committee for a Free Iran (DSFI), which has, among others, former Bundestag President Rita Süssmuth on its advisory board.
German lawmakers - including Thomas Erndl (Christian Social Union), Lukas Köhler (Free Democratic Party), and Bernhard Daldrup (Social Democratic Party) - have often participated in the events organized by the MKO and DSFI.
Norbert Lammert, who served as the 12th President of the German Bundestag (federal parliament) from 2005 to 2017, has also been seen attending events hosted by Rajavi.
Zeit Online report, citing anonymous sources, revealed that senior German politicians like Süssmuth worked with the DSFI to take many of these young refugees after they left Camp Ashraf in Iraq, and most of them ended up in a villa in Berlin-Wilmersdorf after their arrival.
“We thought we were coming to Europe, to freedom,” one of them was quoted as saying in the report. “But in Berlin, the organization's officials continued to monitor us mentally, emotionally, socially, and financially.”
Task cut out
They had their day's task cut out: wake up at seven o'clock and started working, including collecting donations on the street. In the evenings, they would attend "ideological meetings" wherein they had to reveal their forbidden thoughts - including about their own family.
These helpless MKO cadres were also subject to "sleep deprivation" as political meetings sometimes continued throughout the night, from around 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.
"Destruction of social ties" was another diabolic technique used by the cult. They were not allowed to contact family, friends or even fellow cadres. The “mission” was what mattered.
They were also shielded from any outside information and barred from reading newspapers and magazines or listening to the radio or music. Internet available was heavily censored.
This manipulation and mind control, the report cited "dissidents" as saying, was designed to have "cheap workers" who would work for the terror cult's goals – propaganda against Iran.
"Some would have looked for politicians or kept the German-language websites of the organization up to date. Others organized demonstrations," the report stated.
Most of these people were also required to collect donations for the terror cult, by standing in pedestrian zones and showing doctored pictures of "victims of torture and starving children".
This practice also extended to stealth ‘clubs’ that were run from the Berlin villa. Some of these ‘clubs’ are still functional, operating under the names of ‘Aid for Human Rights in Iran’, the ‘Association for People and Freedom’, or the ‘Association for Hope of the Future’.
Lobbying and donations
A former MKO member was cited as saying that all they require for lobbying is "one or two famous names," shower them with attention and compliments and dole out gifts. In the next step, the person is asked to form an association that campaigns for the MKO.
"It's a psychological trick: when you ask someone a favor after so much flattery, people think they owe you something and they can hardly say no," the person asserted.
Donald Trump's former security advisor, John Bolton, according to award-winning MSNBC journalist Richard Engel, received upwards of $180,000 for speaking at MEK events over the years.
A report in The Guardian in July 2018 said Bolton’s ascent as Trump’s security advisor “reinvigorated the group”, and helped it “bury its murky past and portray itself as a democratic and popular alternative to the Islamic Republic”.
Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, has also regularly featured in MEK rallies. Engel says Giuliani “doesn't remember how much money they paid him over the years”, and believes the group's past designation as a foreign terrorist organization was "a mistake”.
The terror organization has also been involved in party donations. The far-right group Vox, which is the third-largest bloc inside the Spanish parliament with 52 lawmakers, was created in 2013 with around €1 million funded by the MKO, as reported by El Pais newspaper in January 2020.
Two lawmakers for the far-right political group, Santiago Abascal and Iván Espinosa de los Monteros, received party salaries for eight months from MEK donations, around €65,000 in total.
This political lobbying has helped the group, which was on the US list of terrorist organizations until 2012, escape scrutiny for years, with even courts coming to its rescue on several occasions.
In March 2019, a German court ordered the weekly magazine Der Spiegel to delete passages from an article that accused the MKO of engaging in “torture” and “psycho terror".
The court in its ruling said it would fine the German magazine 250,000 euros (about $282,000) if the passages about a MEK “psycho terror” camp in Albania weren’t removed.
Die Zeit's significant legal victory against the terror group, however, could be the beginning of the end of its criminal activities in Germany and other European countries.
Syed Zafar Mehdi is a Tehran-based journalist, political commentator and author. He has reported for more than 13 years from India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and West Asia for leading publications worldwide.