Ashraf: Expats want Berlin on their side

10 08 2009

BERLIN, Aug. 10 (UPI) — A group of Iranian expatriates is calling on the German government to condemn human rights violations in a dissident camp in Iraq.

Arezu Rafii from Darmstadt stands in front of the German Foreign Ministry in downtown Berlin. Rafii came to the German capital to join a group of Iranian expatriates who are now in the 13th day of a hunger strike, in a bid to raise awareness about the situation of some 3,500 members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran living in Camp Ashraf, an enclave northeast of Baghdad. Rafii has a brother and a sister in Ashraf, and she is deeply worried about their security. “The international community needs to protect the people of Ashraf,” she says.

The group began the hunger strike on July 29, a day after Iraqi police stormed Camp Ashraf. They clashed with Ashraf residents trying to block their entry. In the ensuing melee, Iraqi forces killed nine people, injuring some 450 more.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh has acknowledged the deaths, though he claims some of the Camp Ashraf residents threw themselves under police vehicles. This seems at least unlikely: A video this reporter watched shows military vehicles repeatedly racing into a crowd of people trying to flee.

There are many more videos available, some of them on YouTube — high-resolution clips that are at least difficult to be forged. They show Iraqi security forces attacking what appear to be unarmed Ashraf citizens (women and men) with wooden piles, chains and metal poles. The use of force is — to put it mildly — excessive. They also show many injured and dead bodies with what clearly look like gunshot wounds. (Baghdad has so far denied that shots were fired).

As part of the raid, 36 Ashraf residents were detained; four of them were heavily injured, and 32 of them remain missing — so far, the Iraqi government has not disclosed their location.

Amnesty International has urged Baghdad to provide information about those people, demanding authorities provide evidence of their humane treatment amid allegations of torture.

“The reports coming from Camp Ashraf in Iraq worry me. I call on all the parties to improve the humanitarian situation in the camp,” Guenter Nooke, the German government’s human rights commissioner, said in a statement.

“That statement is not enough,” Christian Zimmermann, head of the Berlin-based Office for Human Rights and Minority Affairs, said Monday at a news conference in Berlin. He called on Berlin to condemn the violence and engage in diplomacy to send international observers there. Three German regional politicians from two major parties and a former parliamentarian from the government Social Democrats in the same news conference called on the German government to help protect the people in Ashraf.

So far, their calls have not been heard. The expatriates who have camped out in front of the German Foreign Ministry are frustrated.

“It is shameful that after 13 days in hunger strike, the German government has not reacted,” said Shokrane Taheri, whose parents and brother remain in Ashraf. “This is an ongoing massacre and it must be stopped.”

Camp Ashraf over the past 23 years has been a safe haven for some 3,500 members of the PMOI, an Iranian opposition group Tehran says is composed of terrorists. The United States also considers the PMOI a terror organization. After a long legal battle, it was removed from the European Union’s terrorist list in January. The PMOI says that it has long focused on peaceful resistance.

U.S. forces disarmed Ashraf residents after the Iraq war, and from 2003 until the end of 2008 provided security for them because of their status as “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions.

Before that, they enjoyed a similar situation under Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, simply because the PMOI and Hussein had the same goal: To overthrow the Iranian clerical regime. PMOI fighters fought alongside Iraqi forces in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

The Iraqi military took over protection of Ashraf on Jan. 1, giving the Americans guarantees to protect Ashraf citizens.

However, Baghdad is determined to close the camp and expel its residents to Iran or a third country. If forced to return to Iran, however, the PMOI members would face abuse, imprisonment and death sentences.

Observers say the planned closure of Ashraf is a deal between Baghdad and the clerical regime in Iran. The recent raid happened “doubtless with the encouragement of their ruling fellow Shias in Tehran,” the Economist writes in its latest issue.

“Iran wants to liquidate the people of Ashraf,” Zimmermann said.

The current situation in Ashraf remains critical, says Mohammad Tasslimi, the spokesman of the group in hunger strike. Iraqi police have set up a base within Ashraf. A local police chief has warned that the people there will have to leave the camp by Sept. 1 or face being driven out with force.

“The danger for these people is not over yet,” Tasslimi said.



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