Downed Passenger Plane: Iran’s Government Should Allow People to Freely Mourn, Pursue Justice
Families Call for Independent UN Investigation
January 6, 2022 – While commemorating the second anniversary of the killing of 176 people aboard Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) calls on the Iranian government to allow people to mourn their lost loved ones and to demand justice without interference.
The passenger plane was shot down minutes after it took off from Tehran International Airport on January 8, 2020, struck by surface-to-air-missiles shot by the IRGC, killing all on board. While most of the passengers were of Iranian origin, many also hailed from Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, the UK, and Afghanistan. The Iranian government initially denied responsibility only to eventually admit the IRGC had shot the plane down.
“Public mourning is an inherent part of the grieving process in Iran,” said Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi. “Yet the Iranian government has a long history of denying the right to mourn for victims of state violence.”
“This is just another example—albeit a cruel one—of the Iranian government’s refusal to accept any accountability for its violent and unlawful actions,” said Ghaemi.
“The victims’ families have a fundamental right to voice their calls for justice and the international community should demand that the Iranian government respect this right,” Ghaemi added.
Javad Soleimani, whose wife Elnaz Nabiyi perished on the flight, told CHRI that he wants the UN Human Rights Council to “step in and order an independent international investigation.”
“We are not saying that the UN, like the Ontario Superior Court, should declare that the shooting of the plane was deliberate and issue a verdict,” added Soleimani who spoke to CHRI from the Canadian city of Edmonton. “We are only saying that the council should have a clear mechanism to put pressure on governments and enable international investigations.”
The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims, which represents 140 victims and was founded by their families, has called on the world to light candles and share their expressions of support online using the hashtag #IwillLightaCandleToo from January 1 through January 8, the day of the downing of the plane.
Iran’s Government Tried to Silence Victims’ Families and Supporters
A well-known activist in Iran, Mehdi Mahmoudian, is currently serving a four-year prison sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison for inviting people to light candles to commemorate the victims after the plane was downed in January 2020.
While peaceful activists have been imprisoned for trying to honor the victims, no high-level official has been held accountable for the shooting down of the plane. On November 22, 2021, an Iranian military court began hearing arguments by 10 military members who were unnamed in a judicial report that provided scant details, yet to date there has been no judgment.
Two days later, on November 24, the Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims released a 205-page fact-finding report using first-hand evidence and drawing upon legal and technical analyses to show that “high-ranking officials of Iran are responsible for the downing of Flight PS752 and not just a handful of low- ranking IRGC members as per the claims of the government of Iran.”
The report described numerous human rights violations by the Iranian government, including bulldozing the crash site, abuses against the victims’ family members, attempting to block burial rites, gatherings and funerals, and harassing family members.
“For intimidation and propaganda purposes, representatives of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) repeatedly contacted and forcefully visited the families of the victims at their homes and at funerals. The majority of these visits were against the families’ wishes,” said the report.
In Iran, members of the IRGC and the state-run Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans were assigned to visit the families, with some bringing TV crews that filmed interviews and then aired heavily edited versions of them on state TV without the families’ consent.
Iranian authorities threatened families that publicly condemned the IRGC for the downing of the flight. “These families were asked to report to the Iranian Intelligence Agency and explain their behavior,” said the report.
UN: Families Risked Non-Return of Loved One’s Remains if They Didn’t Toe the State’s Line
Agnes Callamard, who was UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions at the time, stated in December 2020: “There are reports that, in the context of public protests about the downing of PS752, Iranian officials sought to coerce families into publicly declaring their support for the Government or risk the non-return of their loved ones’ remains.”
On January 3, 2022, a Canadian court awarded 107 million Canadian dollars to the Canadian families of six victims who were killed aboard the flight (Canada had 55 citizens and 30 residents on board). However, beyond seizing Iranian assets in Canada, Canadian authorities have no viable means of securing payment.
“Until the truth is uncovered, the families will always be tormented and suffer from lack of information,” Soleimani told CHRI.
“We want international action regarding this case as soon as possible so that international legal pressure is put on the Islamic Republic,” he said.
*This article was edited on January 6, 2021, to note that Javad Soleimani was in Edmonton, Canada at the time of the interview.