No longer having the tacit support of a U.S. administration inclined toward rapprochement, the regime of Tehran is gradually facing the consequences of its unrestricted incursions in the neighboring region and brutal crackdown on domestic dissent in past years. With regime change in Iran gaining increasing support both at home and abroad, Tehran is frantically resorting to the oldest trick in its book: demonizing the opposition.
This is a campaign that the Iranian regime has been leading for decades, although in recent months it has seen an uptick. Massoud Khodabandeh, a U.K.-based Iranian whose ties to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) are well known, recently ran a long tirade in the Huffington Post against the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), a prominent opposition group that advocates regime change in Iran.
While Khodabandeh’s rant is no different from the dozens of articles he has published in his Huffington Post column against the MEK, he expresses the true nature of his ire in between the reiteration of debunked and unproven claims about MEK: In the past year, Sen. John McCain, a separate U.S. Senate delegation, and several other prominent U.S. politicians have met with MEK’s leadership in Tirana, Albania, where the group’s members relocated to from Iraq in 2016, and voiced their support for MEK’s goals to establish freedom and democracy in Iran.
Khodabandeh’s article comes on the heels of a trip to Albania by his wife, Anne Singleton, in which she tried to engage in a media campaign to defame the MEK among the locals.
In tandem with its foreign demonization campaign, the Iranian regime has tried to damage the MEK’s reputation inside Iran, where the group is enjoying increasing support. The efforts involve broadcasting fake news and documentaries about the group and issuing threats and warnings on social media channels to dissuade activists and users to engage with the supporters of the group.
The Islamic Republic banned the MEK in 1981, and has since tortured, executed and murdered more than 100,000 of its members. In the summer of 1988 alone, the Iranian regime executed 30,000 MEK members in the span of a few months.
Iran’s increased propaganda efforts against the MEK are taking place against the backdrop of a change of policy in the region across the globe. In October, President Trump declared a new policy toward Iran, in which he pledged to crack down on the regime’s various nefarious activities and stand in solidarity with the Iranian people’s longing “to reclaim their country's proud history, its culture, its civilization, its cooperation with its neighbors.” This is a break from Trump’s predecessor, who avoided facing off with Tehran over its human rights abuses and terrorist forays.
In the meantime, Iran is also gradually losing its influence in the neighboring region, the latest manifestation being the recent push against Hezbollah, a terrorist group and Iran’s main surrogate in the region.
With the cause of regime change in Iran gaining traction, Tehran’s efforts are aimed at portraying the situation as being a choice between bad and worse. This is a tactic that Iran has already tested in Syria, where it tried to legitimize the crimes of Bashar Assad’s regime by casting doubts over the integrity of opposition forces by casting them with extremist groups.
However, as it inches closer to its inevitable collapse, the Iranian regime is finding it increasingly harder to whitewash its decades-long history of crimes and bloodshed by spreading fake news and propaganda against its own victims.