IT has been described as a secretive political cult that brainwashes its adherents and has been accused of refusing to let them leave its 34-hectare camp on an Albanian hillside.
Known as Ashraf 3 after the group’s first camp near the Iran-Iraq border, the settlement houses around 2500 residents and is reminiscent of some British military barracks.
Entry is through a guarded double gate flanked by a pair of golden lions, a PMOI symbol, and over a hill past a recently erected statue of three red tulips to the administration block.
All very pretty on a bright and sunny, but bitterly cold day.
Canadian-Iranians Mostafa and Mahboubeh Mohammadi were unlikely to be feeling the tulips’ love last September when they arrived at Ashraf to try to recover their daughter Somayeh, who has been with the group for more than 20 years.
They previously told two English newspapers that the PMOI had kept their daughter in the camp against her will.
But Somayeh told me a very different story, and claimed her father was being subsidised by Iran’s Secret Service.
“When I wanted to leave Canada and join the [PMOI] movement my parents gave me their consent to do this,” said the 38-year-old, who added that he subsequently had a change of heart.
“He came many times in Iraq … around camp Ashraf and installed 320 loudspeakers [through which they shouted abuse and played very loud music 24 hours a day].
“My father was one of them. They threatened to kill all of us in the camp.
“He was claiming that he loves me as my father but he was against what I wanted to do.
“What kind of father would do this to their child?”
Mohammadi said the clerical regime in Iran uses parents as leverage against their children and in her own case her father went to France campaigning against the PMOI and claiming that she had been captured and was being held hostage.
“In 2013 all the videos and photos they had from my childhood were given to the regime’s intelligence to make a documentary against PMOI.
“It was all my personal videos and photos ... When I came to Albania he started to do the same thing.
“He went to different media claiming I had been captured and was held hostage. All these things are to prepare the ground for terrorist attacks against PMOI.”
Some might think Mohammadi’s last remark smacked of paranoia, but given that the European Union has put Iran’s intelligence service (MOIS) on a terror blacklist after foiled plots to kill opposition activists within Europe, it may not be too far from the truth.
“The prosecutor and police have all rejected my father’s claims, said Mohammadi. “For the months he was here it was clear he was in touch with and was being directed by Iranian intelligence.
“He was staying at the most expensive hotel in Tirana, the Plaza. How could he afford to stay in a hotel like this for four months when back home in Canada he was a builder, an ordinary construction worker?”
Mohammadi said she hasn’t spoken to her father for more than a decade.
“I stopped talking to him in 2007 because I had no doubt that he was against the resistance and was working for the regime. In the beginning it was difficult for me to believe my father was working with the Iranian intelligence ministry against me and I was under lots of pressure because my friends could see I was suffering.”
Mohammadi said her family has raised complaints in Albania, their home country of Canada and in Iraq, adding: “My father went to court in Iraq and the court came with papers and had to appoint a judge to interview me privately.
“Even the Iraqi judiciary said I was staying in Camp Ashraf of my own free will … It is very difficult because he’s my father but it was especially difficult in the beginning to believe he was doing this. He said I was forced to stay in the camp and couldn’t go out.
“But I go out with my friends every other day. I can go into Tirana and buy whatever I need, I go to shops or the hospital, where I translate for PMOI residents who need treatment.”
She has written a book about her case – An End to a Conspiracy – in which she remains defiant about the PMOI struggle: “I have learned many things about the inhumane enemy’s conspiracies and tactics against the PMOI, both regarding its endless fear ... and also the fall and decline of its elements, such as Mostafa Mohammadi, who are literally selling themselves and their family emotions.”