HRW: Iran imprisons protesters over Ukraine airplane disaster

Iranian students demonstrate following a tribute for the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 in front of the Amirkabir University in Tehran. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 May 2020

HRW: Iran imprisons protesters over Ukraine airplane disaster

  • The human rights group says at least 13 people have been imprisoned for speaking out
  • No one has yet been charged in relation to the downing of the jet by the IRGC on Jan. 5

LONDON: Iran has imprisoned at least 13 people since April for protesting against the shooting down of a passenger jet by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), according to the group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In a report published on its website, HRW accused the Iranian authorities of “dodging accountability” and “refusing to provide details” about the disaster, while “wasting no time” in bringing prosecutions against people protesting against Iran’s handling of the episode.
The IRGC shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on Jan. 5, 2020, minutes after it had taken off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, killing all 176 people on board.
Iran initially denied involvement, before stating on Jan. 11 that the plane was caught in the crossfire of the Iranian military response to the assassination of IRGC commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani by a US drone at Baghdad International Airport on Jan. 3 and was shot down in error.
The widespread protests in the country in response to the admission were met with a crackdown described as “brutal” by observers, including HRW.
On Jan. 14, the spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, Gholamhossein Esmaili, said that at least 30 people had been arrested for their part in the protests.
HRW revealed the details of several people who were subsequently convicted. They included Mostafa Hashemizadeh, a student at the University of Tehran who was sentenced to five years in prison, three months of community service and 74 lashes for “assembly and collusion to disrupt national security.”
Another University of Tehran student, Amir Mohammad Sharifi, was sentenced to six months for “propaganda against the state,” which he said stemmed from him photographing police officers. HRW added that 11 people were sentenced to 8 months in prison for “propaganda against the state, chanting slogans against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and taking photos and videos” at a vigil for the victims of the plane in the city of Amol, in Mazandran province.
Michael Page, HRW’s deputy Middle East director, said: “Iranian authorities are following their usual playbook of dodging accountability. While refusing to provide details about any investigation of culpability for the deadly mistake, judicial officials are wasting no time in sentencing people who protested the loss of 176 lives.
“Instead of prosecuting those who exercised their right to free expression and peaceful assembly, the Iranian authorities should conduct a transparent investigation and cooperate with international bodies to find out exactly what happened in this tragedy.”
Despite admitting culpability, Iran has so far failed to cooperate with the international community over investigating the shooting down of Flight 752 and has not allowed other countries access to evidence or to the site of the crash.
On March 11, according to HRW, Iran’s delegation to the International Civil Aviation Organization “agreed to send black boxes from (the) downed Ukrainian jetliner to Kiev for analysis,” but said that they had failed to materialize.
So far, no one has been charged for their role in the incident, and Iranian politicians have speculated that prosecutions remain unlikely. 
Of the “unspecified” number of IRGC members and others initially arrested, only one remains in custody, according to Shokrallah Bahrami, head of Iran’s Judicial Organization of the Armed Forces. 


Lebanese spy chief tests positive for virus in US

Updated 56 min 37 sec ago

Lebanese spy chief tests positive for virus in US

  • Lebanon’s General Directorate of Public Security said that Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim is in ‘good health,’ but will postpone his return to Beirut following the PCR test

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s security chief has been forced to delay his return from an official visit to the US after testing positive for coronavirus following a series of White House meetings.

Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, director-general of the Lebanese Public Security, met with US officials, including David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs; CIA director Gina Haspel; and national security adviser Robert O’Brien during his recent visit to Washington.

Hale, as well as several other employees from the State Department and other executive branch divisions, are now self-isolating for 14 days, US officials said.

Lebanon’s General Directorate of Public Security said that Ibrahim is in “good health,” but will postpone his return to Beirut following the PCR test.

The Lebanese intelligence chief also held talks with senior US security officials in Washington. He was scheduled to hold meetings in Paris before his return to Beirut.

In Lebanon, the number of coronavirus infections during October rose to more than 24,000, climbing past the September total of 22,000.

Since the outbreak began in February, more than 63,000 cases have been reported in the country, with 525 fatalities.

Firas Abyad, director of the Rafic Hariri University Hospital, said: “The situation is unacceptable. If we continue on this path, we will soon reach a point where the number of critical coronavirus cases outweighs the number of available intensive care beds. This will coincide with winter, when the demand for intensive care beds increases for pneumonia cases, for example.”

Abyad told Arab News: “One of the most difficult cases that doctors can face is the death of a mother after giving birth, due to the repercussions of her infection with the coronavirus, and this happened a few days ago in Tripoli.”

Abyad pointed to a “state of denial” among those infected with the virus, saying some “consider it as just a regular flu, and do not think about the consequences of the disease.”

He added: “We have 215 cases that need intensive care in Lebanon. We are not fully occupied yet, but we may be shortly.”

Almost 80 Lebanese towns have been placed in lockdown by the Ministry of Interior after recording high rates of infection.

The one-week lockdown decree issued on Tuesday included the southern Beirut neighborhoods of Ghobeiry, Haret Hreik, Burj Al-Brajneh, Tahwitet Al-Ghadeer and Al-Laylaki.

According to the Mount Lebanon Governorate, some suburbs “failed to abide by individual and collective preventive measures to limit the spread of active infection chains.”

The lockdown includes a ban on “social events, parties and gatherings of all kinds.”

Cafes, gaming lounges, amusement parks, sports clubs and public parks will also be closed under the restrictions.