The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran is not a foreign terrorist organization and should not be labeled as such by the State Department, according to a Mayer Brown lawyer who is planning to argue the group's case at a federal appeals court in Washington on Tuesday.
In July 2008, the PMOI petitioned the State Department to revoke the designation as a "foreign terrorist organization." The department rejected the petition in January 2009. PMOI, founded in 1965 by Iranian Marxists, was first designated a terrorist organization in 1997. The State Department has re-designated the PMOI a terrorist organization four times since.
Lawyers for PMOI, including Mayer Brown partner Andrew Frey, who will argue the case tomorrow in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, said in court papers that the PMOI, is not a terrorist organization since the group has rejected violence, disarmed and refrained for eight years from committing any act that could be classified as terrorist.
“PMOI is a dramatically different entity from such acknowledged terrorist organizations as Al Qaeda, Hamas, or Hezbollah,” Frey said in court papers filed in September. “It has substantial mainstream support and has been removed from the list of proscribed organizations in the United Kingdom and European Union.”
The terrorist designation, Frey said, has had “dire” consequences: seizure of all funds that it has on deposit with any U.S. bank and mandatory exclusion or removal of alien members and representatives from the United States.
The Justice Department’s Douglas Letter, terrorism litigation counsel for the Civil Division appellate staff, will argue for the State Department. Portions of the government’s court papers in the case are under seal. Justice lawyers said PMOI retains the capability and intent to engage in terrorist acts.
Viet Dinh of Washington’s Bancroft Associates submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of members of Congress in support of PMOI. The legislators on the brief, including Bob Finer (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (D-CA), are members of the Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus.
Dinh said in court papers that maintaining a “foreign terrorist organization” designation based on a group’s past conduct – without a present capability and intent to commit acts of terrorism – violates the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and, in addition, First Amendment-based speech rights.
Senior Judge Stephen Williams, sitting with Judges Karen LeCraft Henderson and David Tatel, make up the D.C. Circuit panel that will hear the case.