The behind-closed-doors military trial of 10 people accused in the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 began on Sunday, November 21, 2021. The defendants weren’t publicly named, and the victims’ families were not allowed into the courtroom. They could only stand outside the Armed Forces’ judicial complex in Tehran, holding up pictures of their loved ones, whose lives were cut short by two IRGC missiles on January 8 last year.
Images released from the ensuing rally showed grieving families chanting slogans that included "Death to the Islamic Republic" and "Death to Khamenei." From Canada, Hamed Esmaeilion, a spokesman for the Association of Families of Victims of Flight PS752 Victims, called the trial an "embarassing show."
The name of the judge in the case, however, has been made known and doesn't inspire confidence. Ebrahim Mehranfar’s formal title is deputy director of management development and resources of the Armed Forces Judiciary. His judicial record indicates there was a very good reason for his selection.
On January 8, 2020, Ukrainian Airlines Flight PS752, a passenger plane carrying 176 souls out of Tehran, was shot out of the skies over the Iranian capital by two missiles fired by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Everyone onboard was killed. For three days officials of the Islamic Republic sought to deny that any crime had occurred, citing “psychological warfare” by “the enemy”, but were eventually forced to backtrack under international pressure. Two years later, the first hearing in a criminal trial of 10 military men accused by Tehran was held on November 21, overseen by Ebrahim Mehranfar.
Mehranfar has been a member of the judiciary for two decades. He began his career as a judge in Tehran, then in 2000 became a prosecutor for the Armed Forces Judiciary in Khuzestan. After that he moved to Isfahan in 2003, working there as a military prosecutor for another five years. From 2009 to July 2016, he also served as head of the Isfahan Armed Forces Judiciary and chairman of the Armed Forces Judiciary’s Housing Cooperative Company.
After stepping down from this role, by order of then-Chief Justice Sadegh Amoli Larijani, Mehranfar was appointed “deputy director of management development and resources” of the national Armed Forces Judiciary. The institution’s official website describes him as a “model judge” for the military – and also a “model commander” of the Basij. In 2019, he was also introduced as the judiciary’s top researcher.
At a ceremony in Isfahan in July 2015, Mehranfar tellingly asserted that “preserving the dignity of the armed forces” and the principles of the command structure, as well as keeping military secrets, were considered priorities. Just a few short months ago he made his stance plainer, stating the main mission of the Armed Forces Judiciary was "protection of the armed forces."
This is the man now “prosecuting” 10 military officers for the PS752 disaster. His past record shows he has form in sticking to his principles, no matter the evidence.
Acquitting the Police for Attacking Isfahani Farmers
In March 2013, a group of farmers from eastern Isfahan protested against the difference between the officially-set water tariff and the actual sums being charged to them. They had been given the impression that water from the Zayandeh Rud river, which had been allocated to their lands for many years, would be diverted instead to the provinces of Yazd and Qom, the northern city of Kashan, and large factories such as Mobarakeh Steel and Zob Ahan.
The farmers gathered in front of the Isfahan-Yazd water pipeline to protest the cut in their water quotas. They were attacked and beaten up by the police’s NAJA special forces unit. A few days later about 130 farmers who had suffered physical injuries as a result of police brutality took a joint complaint to the Isfahan branch of the Armed Forces Judiciary. The case was heard in Branch 2 of Isfahan Military Court, presided over by Ebrahim Mehranfar.
A full three years later on July 25, 2016, Mehranfar announced the police had been acquitted due to the “general” nature of the crime. But NAJA had been ordered to pay “blood money” of 6.7 billion tomans (US$229,060) to of the 128 farmers, in three instalments: something that indicates culpability. This strange verdict, conceding a crime had occurred but allowing the officers to get off scot-free, was later rubber-stamped by the Supreme Court.
Defendants Obscured in ‘Accidental’ Firing on Isfahan Town
On June 10, 2015, a startling news item was published in Iranian media; two mortars had struck a residential town in Isfahan. The article began by presenting contradictory views from military and provincial officials on what had happened.
The provincial IRGC public relations department denied the shells had been fired from the IRGC barracks. Army sources said they were investigating. The initial story emphasized no-one had been injured. But on the same day, Nasim News reported that one of the two shells had struck Sepahanshahr Park, the other near the city center, and both had been mistakenly fired from the Shahid Zainodin IRGC base. A few days later, follow-up reports carried no mention of who was responsible for the misfiring; all officials who commented (anonymously) from then on referred only to “one military entity”.
Finally, about a year after the incident, in July 2016, Ebrahim Mehranfar, as head of Isfahan Armed Forces Judiciary, announced: "This case was carefully investigated, and after determining the blood money for the plaintiffs, the people who had been negligent were dealt with appropriately."
For someone to be paid blood money, someone must have been injured. How many, how much they received, and from whom were left as total unknowns. Despite his stated aims this decision by Mehranfar probably damaged the credibility of the military in Isfahan more than if proceedings had been held transparently.
Now in the case of the PS752 atrocity, Ebrahim Mehranfar – a self-described “protector” of the armed forces’ reputation – is “trying” 10 men out of sight and without a shred of transparency. Based on his rulings and public positions to date, his selection comes as no surprise.