LONDON (Reuters) - An Iranian opposition group won a seven-year legal battle on Wednesday when three top judges upheld a ruling that the government was wrong to ban it as a terrorist organisation.
The judges at the Court of Appeal threw out a government challenge to a ruling last November that its refusal to remove the People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) from its list of proscribed terrorist organisations was perverse.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Nicholas Phillips, said the appeal bid by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had “no reasonable prospect of success”, and added: “The appropriate course is to dismiss her application.”
Maryam Rajavi, head of the PMOI’s political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, told Reuters: “The ruling proves the terror label against the PMOI was unjust.”
In a telephone interview from Paris, she said: “Western governments and the UK owe the Iranian people and the resistance an apology for this disgraceful labelling. It’s time for them to recognise the Iranian people’s struggle for democracy.”
The Home Office expressed disappointment with the ruling but a spokesman conceded that the legal case had reached “the end of the line”.
“We will not hesitate to re-proscribe the PMOI if circumstances change and evidence emerges that they are concerned in terrorism,” the spokesman said.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, former U.S. spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, told Reuters in Washington he was heartened by the London court ruling and hoped it would serve as a precedent for the United States.
The U.S. ban imposed in 2003 comes up for review in October and Jafarzadeh said the State Department would be under pressure to reverse its position.
“The State Department can’t ignore the thorough investigation by the British legal system,” he said.
“Given what Tehran is doing in Iraq — escalating violence and killing Americans and innocent Iraqis — and given that Iran is defiantly pursuing its nuclear weapons programme and the support that Iran is providing terrorist groups in the Middle East, the continuing terrorist designation (for the PMOI) is doubly counterproductive,” he said.
The group began as a leftist-Islamist opposition to the late Shah of Iran but fell out with Shi’ite clerics who took power after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Western analysts say it has little support in Iran because it joined Iraqi forces fighting Iran during the two countries’ 1980-88 war.
Rajavi rejected that view, saying Iranians were not free to show their real support for the movement and that Tehran’s concerns about it were a sign of its strength.
Removal from the list will unblock frozen assets of the PMOI and enable it to raise funds from supporters in Britain, Rajavi said, adding that she hoped the ruling would lead to the end of similar sanctions by the European Union.
Britain and the EU should recognise and open negotiations with the Iranian opposition, she said.
“Regime change by the Iranian people and organised resistance is the only option to confront the increasing threat of the mullahs’ regime.”
A European diplomat said removing the PMOI from the EU’s sanctions list would require either a ruling from the European Court of Justice or an initiative by Britain within the EU Council of 27 member states.
He said he was “very sceptical” whether the PMOI was fully committed to renouncing terrorism, although Rajavi said it had fully disarmed in 2003.
In the court case, the government took a similar line, but the judges said there was no reliable evidence to suggest the PMOI intended to resort to terrorism in the future.
Additional reporting by Paul Eckert in Washington; editing by Mary Gabriel