One year after the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in Iranian airspace, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Iran’s authorities have “harassed and intimidated” the victims’ families instead of conducting a “transparent and credible” investigation into the tragedy.
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran’s main airport on January 8, 2020, killing all 176 on board. The majority of the victims were Iranians and Canadians, but Afghans, Britons, Swedes, and Germans were also among the dead.
Iran admitted days later that its forces accidentally shot down the Kyiv-bound plane after firing two missiles amid heightened tensions with the United States.
In a statement coinciding with the first anniversary of the crash, HRW urged Iranian authorities to “commit to a genuinely transparent investigation and cooperate with international bodies to uncover the truth and provide the victims’ families with justice and appropriate redress.”
The government should “promptly pay adequate compensation to the families and carry out a transparent and impartial investigation with appropriate prosecutions regardless of position or rank,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at the New York-based human rights watchdog.
The group said it had interviewed more than a dozen of the victims’ family members, who said that the authorities “had not returned any valuables from their loved ones.”
The authorities also “intimidated and harassed families to stop them from seeking justice outside of the authorities’ own judicial investigations.”
Meanwhile, at least 20 people who participated in peaceful protests over the crash have been prosecuted, according to HRW.
It said two prominent activists among them were sentenced to four years and eight months and five years in prison, respectively, for participating in the demonstrations and posting about it on social media.
Officials from Canada and other countries whose nationals were on board have raised concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability in Iran’s investigation of its own military, and called on the country to cooperate with multilateral investigative initiatives.
In December, an independent report by the Canadian government accused Iran of failing to conduct a proper investigation and said that many questions remain unanswered.
“The party responsible for the situation is investigating itself, largely in secret. That does not inspire confidence or trust,” said a report by Canada’s special counsel on the tragedy.
Iranian officials have said the country never sought to hide the details about the air disaster or to violate the rights of the victims’ families.
There has been no report of senior Iranian officials being dismissed or resigning over the crash.
On January 7, the military prosecutor of Tehran, Gholam Abbas Torki, said experts had concluded their investigations and that “human error” had resulted in the incident.
Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili earlier announced that the trial of several people charged over the crash would begin later this month. He did not identify the suspects.
And Iran announced in December that the government had allocated $150,000 for the families of each of the victims — an offer rejected by the Ukrainian and Canadian governments, as well as some of the families of the victims, who see it as an attempt to close the case and escape accountability.
Canada’s Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in an e-mail sent to AFP on January 7 that Tehran cannot unilaterally decide compensation for the families and that “substantive discussions with Iran” were yet to take place over the matter.
In the week prior to the anniversary of the incident, Iranian authorities organized several events commemorating the victims of the crash, but Page said “public commemorations do not make up for the intimidation of victims’ families and wrongful prosecutions of peaceful protesters.”
The authorities “should immediately and unconditionally drop charges against those peacefully protesting, stop intimidating families, and direct their efforts to holding wrongdoers to account,” he added.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Champagne, and several other members of the government spoke with victims’ families during a private virtual commemoration on the eve of the tragedy’s anniversary.
Trudeau has recently announced that January 8 would become known as Canada’s National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Air Disasters.
Flight 752 was downed the same night that Iran launched a ballistic-missile attack that targeted U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Tehran’s air defenses were on high alert in case of retaliation.
Iran’s missile attack was in response to a U.S. drone strike that killed the powerful commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Major General Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad five days earlier.
With reporting by AFP
This post was originally published on Radio Free.