The Association of Families of Flight 752 Victims has published an independent fact-finding report into the downing of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 by the Revolutionary Guards last January. At a press conference on Wednesday, November 24 spokesman Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife and daughter were among the 176 killed that night over Tehran, slammed the Iranian government for its inaction to date and said the victims’ families were not looking for an “easy” remedy.
"We want the full release of the contents of the aircraft's black box [flight recorder],” he said, “and the preparation of an independent international report on the Ukrainian plane." He also repeated a commonly-held view by the bereaved families: “The Canadian government and the international community must declare the whole of the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization."
Javad Soleimani, whose wife Elnaz was also among those killed, told those present that the Islamic Republic had refused to deliver the bodies of the deceased to “a significant number” of families. He highlighted previous comments by ex-Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, saying Iranian officials had deliberately left airspace open at a time of heightened tensions with the US to create a “human shield”. Canada’s performance in pursuing the case, he said, had been “very slow”.
The investigative report also describes other evidence of deliberate interventions by the Iranian government, including the "complete destruction of passengers' electronic devices", the "suspicious 57-minute delay” before takeoff and the diversion of other flights that evening. Some of the findings presented were brand new and had not been touched on in reports by affected governments.
The Association, which currently represents the families of 140 of the victims, also called for the release of innocent citizens detained for protesting and holding vigils in the aftermath of the disaster.
Ukrainian Defense and National Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov has previously described the Revolutionary Guards’ firing of at least two missiles at a passenger plane as “deliberate”. In May, the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario also ruled that the incident had been a “deliberate act of terror”.
First Defendant in Iranian Trial is a Captain
The Association’s report comes as a military trial is under way in Iran. Ten people, as yet unnamed, alleged to bear responsibility for Flight 752. Iranian media outlets report that the first defendant is a captain.
The first hearing took place on Sunday. The judge, Ebrahim Mehranfar, has form in letting uniformed officers off the hook for acknowledged crimes and has twice said his role is to “protect” the military. The sessions were initially set to be held in public, but due to supposed military sensitivities, ended up taking place in private with families left outside the courtroom and press releases sent to the media instead.
A few days before the trial, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC Air Force, had claimed he was not in Tehran on the day of the crash. He added: “The shooting was not allowed and the order to shoot was not given, but [the person who fired] in a position to believe it had been." Hajizadeh was the same official who first called the atrocity “human error” two days after it took place, on January 10, 2020.
Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, a lawyer for several of the PS752 victims’ families, confirmed the first defendant’s position on Wednesday and said of the charges: “Three to four people have been charged with manslaughter and the rest with recklessness in the course of their duties.” Both families and their lawyers, he said, felt investigations had been “incomplete” lawyers and the court had accepted this. As a result, expert witnesses are now being sought to testify.
Jamshid Rahmanifar, who lost his daughter Nasim in the crash, said the General Staff of the Armed Forces had provided unreliable evidence to the court and independent, international experts ought to be recruited instead. Of the 10 defendants, he said, “We don’t consider these people the main culprits. Our complaint is against more important people. But seeing them was a reminder of those moments, and it was hard and painful for families of the victims. The screams of the victims' mothers and fathers affected the hearing.
"We want nothing more than justice for our children. Compensation and litigation will not return our children to us."