Iranians and Iranian-Americans crowded into the room to hear congressmen and lawyers congratulate them on an Iranian resistance group’s recent victory in a U.S. appellate court, which ruled last week that the State Department needed to reconsider its status as a foreign terrorist group.
The celebration, dubbed "A Victory for Justice," provided Iranian food and desserts while nine prominent leaders described the struggle to reach this point and their hopes for the future of the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI), a political group that has fought since 2008 to overturn the terrorist label.
"When I heard about [the PMOI’s] situation, I said, 'It's worth it to go through the justice system,’ “ said Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, who is also a former judge. "So we went to court, and justice prevailed."
Miriam Nemetz, one of the lawyers who represented the PMOI to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, also described the strength of the decision to listeners.
"This decision is more than we could have hoped for," Ms. Nemetz said. She described how the court "went out of its way" to talk about the evidence against the PMOI, and found it insufficient.
Ms. Nemetz said such steps were not necessary, but sent a strong statement in favor of the PMOI. The group maintains that since 2001 it has halted all violence against the Iranian government and has cooperated with the U.S. by sharing intelligence on Iran's nuclear program.
According to Alireza Jafarzadeh, a longtime member of the Iranian resistance who helped reveal Iran's secret nuclear operations, this is one of the first cases in which the court has ruled against the state in matters of national security.
"The support for the movement is piling up," Mr. Jafarzadeh said.
Many people at the event had friends or family in Iran that have been arrested, tortured or killed for supporting the pro-democracy resistance. Amir Emadi, for instance, a San Diego State University student who was sent to America at age 4, remembers the last guitar song his uncle played for him over the phone before he heard that his uncle was in prison.
Yet Shirin Nariman, spokeswoman for the Virginia Branch of the Council for Democratic Change in Iran, said she has received many calls from Iran congratulating them.
“It’s a light of hope to the people in Iran,” she said.
The details of the State Department’s review of the PMOI are still being solidified. In previous reviews, the PMOI sent hundreds of pages of written material detailing why they should be removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist groups. The material was all incorporated into the administrative record.
The State Department, however, does not discount the possibility of speaking to the PMOI legal counsel or experts on the subject. The court ruling did not mandate a time frame, but the State Department said it hopes to proceed as quickly as possible.
“This is just one more day in the struggle for freedom,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican.