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The Iranian Regime’s Misinformation Campaign

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Paul Sakuma

It is time for the West to counter the Iranian regime’s misinformation campaign. In a July 2017 interview with the state-run Apart TV, former Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian revealed that the MOIS has long used the services of people in various fields including scholars or journalists to advance its agenda abroad, including its misinformation campaign. In an interview with a state-affiliated TV station, he boasted, "We don’t send an agent to Germany or America and for example say, ok, I am an agent of the intelligence ministry. ... Obviously, he would work under the cover of business or other jobs including reporters. You know, many of our reporters are actually Ministry agents.”


On December 15, 2022, the Associated Press reported that an Albanian court had convicted an Iranian man on terrorism-related charges and sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment, according to court officials. “In a ruling issued Wednesday but made public a day later, Albania’s Special Court on Corruption and Organized Crime (SPAK) found Bijan Pooladrag guilty of funding terrorism and being a member of a terrorist organization. No details on Pooladrag’s age, home city, or when he had come to Albania were made known,” the AP wrote, adding, “Pooladrag was arrested two years ago on suspicion of spying on members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK, some 3,000 of whom live in exile in Albania.” 

The Albanian news outlet, News24 had written earlier, "Pooladrag is accused by SPAK of being part of a terrorist cell that intended to attack senior officials of the Iranian opposition, who live in Ashraf 3. He received orders and instructions through the Telegram application. And according to the investigations, the assassination of one of the senior members of the MEK was being planned.  One of Iran's intelligence officers had ordered the defendant to procure a Kalashnikov machinegun in the black market and find trained people who could commit murder.”


This development comes shortly after Albania’s Special Court on Corruption and Organized Crime arrested and placed under detention six other individuals. The six, who left the ranks of the oppositional groups MEK many years ago. Four days prior to their arrest, SPAK had issued search warrants for premises and property associated to Hassan Heyrani, Mehdi Soleimani, Gholamreza Shekari, Mostafa Beheshti, Abdolrahman Mohammadian, Hassan Shahbaz, Sarfaraz Rahimi, Mahmoud Dehghan Gourabi, Mohammad Reza Seddigh, Reza Islami, and Ali Hajari. In addition to the search of their apartments and offices, all their electronic equipment, including mobile phones, computers, tape recorders, and documents were seized. 

On February 16, 2020, Patrick Kingsley of the New York Times, visited Ashraf for nine hours and speaking privately with several residents, published a article entitled, “Highly Secretive Iranian Rebels Are Holed Up in Albania.” Kingsley based some of his reporting on interviews with the MEK defectors. The article pointed out that “Inside the group… contact with family is highly restricted, and friendships discouraged,” and “members have to confess to their commanders any disloyal thoughts they had.”  After visiting Ashraf-3, on August 22, 2021, a Sunday Times correspondent metwith Hassan Heyrani at a café. The article quoted Heyrani as saying that “the camp is a prison,” among other allegations. Heyarni also admittedto the Times that the café and his association (ASILA) had been financed by an NGO in Iran.  


On the other hand, unable to crush the unfolding uprising at home, the Iranian regime appears to be striking overseas. Terrorist plots targeting the MEK in AlbaniaFrance, the US and Denmark have been foiled. One Iranian diplomat is jailed in Belgium, three have been expelled from France and the Netherlands, and the terrorist arrested in Denmark has been exposed as closely linked to the regime’s ambassador in Norway. Thankfully, those attacks have been to no avail. It seems that the Iranian regime seeks to discredit and demonize the oppositional group internationally to blunt the spotlight the organization has put on its human rights violations, its secret nuclear weapons programs, its terrorist-sponsoring activities, and its meddling in the Middle East.

Now, with the latest developments and the imprisonment of these individuals, it should be of concern to all reputable media and news editors that the Iranian regime tries to manipulate in order to gain coverage for its disinformation campaign against its opponents. It is high time that the mainstream media recognize the Iranian regime’s misinformation campaign. 



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