Massoud Khodabandeh, Contributor
Director at Middle East Strategy Consultants
Modern Slavery is usually a hidden phenomenon, it goes on behind closed doors and can be hard to detect. Victims are often isolated individuals – domestic servants or cannabis ‘farmers’ – locked away behind closed doors. Nobody knows of their existence because they have been illegally trafficked. Even those more openly kept in brothels for sexual exploitation are unable to escape for fear of reprisals against themselves and their families back home.
But there is another form of slavery hidden in plain sight: political slavery. This is not difficult to detect because the kinds of groups which practice it actively seek publicity and influence over worldwide politics. The exiled Iranian Mojahedin Khalq organisation (MEK aka MKO, NCRI, Rajavi cult) is one such group. It describes itself as a democratic political organisation, the main opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran. But the life of the members speaks of a very different story.
A year ago, the last of nearly three thousand MEK members were finally expelled from Iraq where they had been operating under the patronage of Saddam Hussein. America paid millions of dollars to the UN and the Albanian government to have the group to settle there. Part of the deal was to establish a de-radicalization programme to return the members to normal life. This did not happen.
Instead, the group closed ranks and over the past year, several high-profile US politicians and former officials opportunistically visited Albania to heap praise on the MEK for its anti-Iran stance. John Bolton, Senator John McCain, among others have unabashedly promoted the group by meeting its leader Maryam Rajavi there.
Of greater concern was that during this same period the families of these MEK members in Albania complained to the UNHCR and the Albanian government about the treatment of their loved ones. They said that many, perhaps the majority of MEK members want to leave the group but have nothing – no money, no place to go, no officially recognised status and no language skills – to help them do so. They are effectively being held in a state of modern slavery.
A report by an Albanian lawyer (acting for MEK members who managed to separate from the group) after meeting with the UNHCR in Tirana reveals that under a secret agreement struck between the Americans, the government of Albania and the MEK leader, the UNHCR supervised the transfer of approximately 3,000 MEK from Iraq to Albania not as refugees but on a ‘humanitarian basis’. In other words, they have no official status in the country.
According to this agreement, all the expenses for the MEK members are to be doled out by the MEK itself. This means that members are totally dependent on the MEK leadership for their subsistence. Those who have expressed their desire to separate from the group, for whatever reason, must continue to obey MEK rules and restrictions, they must accept MEK imposed conditions so that they are given accommodation and food.
As such, they are forced to pay lip service to a belief system they no longer believe in. They are forced to give allegiance to a pseudo-political terrorist entity. Under these conditions, they are modern political slaves, trapped in plain sight in a circle of fear, coercion and isolation.
The stories of those who do escape are harrowing. (See videos below.) In the MEK, any word of dissent is punished. How? By public humiliation, beatings, solitary confinement and ultimately death. More poignantly, in the MEK contact with your family is a punishable sin against the leader. Your devotion must solely focus on Maryam Rajavi to the exclusion of all others. This is a disturbing addition to the ways and reasons that individuals are enslaved. It is known as cultic abuse because of the involvement of a belief system. The MEK are political pawns whose minds have been hijacked for a cause most of them no longer believe in. Urgent action is needed to rescue them. But at present there is little hope of that. Even Albania’s deputy anti-trafficking coordinator, Dr Elona Gjebrea, who is also the deputy minister of the interior, has bowed down in the Court of Maryam Rajavi.
When counter-terrorism expert Anne Khodabandeh visited Tirana on 5-7 November to investigate the plight of former members, several media interviews she gave were pulled from broadcast due to MEK and Albanian Mafia intimidation when she revealed that the MEK are actively recruiting Albanian youth to their cause.
But a more sinister turn of events is taking place right now. The MEK is moving over 2,500 members to a remote camp in the north of Albania far away from any local communities. This desperate act serves several purposes. One is to recreate the isolation the cult enjoyed in Iraq where coercion and brainwashing were a daily occurrence – the new camp is called ‘Ashraf Three’. Another reason is to prevent families from reaching their loved ones and prevent members from escaping. The other is to empty the old university buildings in Tirana to make way for a new round of political slaves to take up residence. This time, families of Daesh fighters who have fled Iraq and Syria are rumoured to be ready to move to Albania on ‘humanitarian grounds’.
While America turns a blind eye to political slavery, the European Union takes a very different view. Not only have Albania’s efforts to accede to the EU been completely stymied by the MEK’s activities there, the group’s alignment with the Albanian Mafia and the threat of a new wave of political slaves means Albania is now regarded as a security threat on the border of Europe rather than a potential partner country.
IMPAKT 97: Jihad 2.0? What are the Iranian Jihadis (MKO, Rajavi cult) doing in Albania? (part 1)
IMPAKT 97: Jihad 2.0? What are the Iranian Jihadis (MKO, Rajavi cult) doing in Albania? (part 2)