The Current

Stephen Harper criticized for speaking at 'Free Iran' event hosted by dissident group

Former prime minister Stephen Harper is under scrutiny after speaking at a weekend rally hosted by an Iranian dissident group that some critics call a 'cult-like' organization.

Critics call the exiled Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) 'cult-like'

Former prime minister Stephen Harper is taking criticism after speaking at a Paris event hosted by MEK, an Iranian dissident group that was previously on Canada's list of terrorist organizations. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Read story transcript

Former prime minister Stephen Harper is being criticized for his decision to speak at a "Free Iran" rally in Paris, organized by a group once listed as a terrorist organization that critics say "has all the characteristics of a cult."

The exiled opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) was previously classified as a terrorist organization by Canada, but it was dropped from the list in 2012, following the lead of the United States and the European Union.

However, many Iranians have reservations about the group, including Mason Ghafghazi. The associate professor at the University of Toronto does not condone former or current politicians to be associated with the group but says MEK has been very successful in attracting Western politicians.

"A Conservative former prime minister of Canada would be the last person who [would] want to associate with this. MEK has participated in assassinations inside Iran. It's collaborated with Saddam Hussein in attacking Iran. It is accused of helping Saddam Hussein oppress the Iraqi people and this group has only become an unarmed group because the U.S. disarmed them in 2003," Ghafghazi told The Current's guest host Mike Finnerty.

"Mr. Harper is the highest ranking Canadian former politician as far as I know who has attended the rallies. But these things have been going on forever."

Harper wasn't the only Canadian politician at Saturday's rally. Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen, former foreign affairs minister John Baird and Liberal MP Judy Sgro were also in attendance. The Current requested interviews them and other MPs who have attended MEK events in the past, but no one was available.

Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen (pictured), former foreign affairs minister John Baird and Liberal MP Judy Sgro were also in attendance. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

On its website, the MEK says it "seeks to replace Iran's religious dictatorship with a secular, pluralistic, democratic government." Ghafghazi calls the group "an Islamist-Marxist cult."

"You don't have to go further than their logo, their name and their slogan to see these things. Their logo is a circle and machine gun," he said. "It's formed around a cult of personality around the Rajavi couple, Maryam Rajavi and Masoud Rajavi, who disappeared in 2003."

Shahram Golestaneh, president of Iran Democratic Association, supports the group's goals and says criticism surrounding the MEK is unwarranted. 

He argued the group was placed on the terrorist list as an appeasement by the then-Iranian president Mohammad Khatami in 1997 to adhere to the constant demands from the Iran regime and Tehran government.

Golestaneh says, however, that the de-listing in 2012 wasn't strictly a political move.

"It was ordered by the courts across the globe. Every court that they have gone into … ruled in favour that they should not be listed as a terrorist entity. And all of those rulings were unanimous," Golestaneh told Finnerty.

"How can nine judges on the bench of a high court of the European Union, be all … wrong?"

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar and Kristian Jebsen.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.