LONDON: Families of victims killed by Iran’s downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 last January have been subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation for seeking justice.
Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife and daughter were killed on the flight, told The Times newspaper that he received threatening phone calls after attending a rally in Canada nine months after the incident.
He said an anonymous individual phoned “to talk about his loved ones’ last moments,” and a vehicle waited suspiciously outside his Toronto home.
He later received a message that said: “You are on the list of terror, enjoy your life before it is cut short, and you will be a lesson for out-of-country traitors.”
Friday marked the anniversary of the aviation disaster that left all 176 people on board the aircraft dead, including 57 Canadians, four Britons and citizens of Iran, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and Germany.
A year later, families in Canada are still demanding justice and have accused Iran of waging a psychological war against them.
“It’s not just sadness, it’s mostly rage and anger,” said Esmaeilion, a 43-year-old dentist. “One year has passed with almost no answers.”
According to a judiciary spokesperson in Iran, six people were arrested in connection with the downing, but five of them have now been released on bail.
The country in which a plane crashes is required by international rules to lead an investigation.
However, Iran’s inquiry has faced criticism for its secrecy and attempts to cover up important information.
“The families of the 176 victims of the downed jetliner are entitled to know who was responsible for the deaths of their loved ones,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Humans Rights Watch.
“The Iranian 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.”
Iran’s inquiry has faced criticism for its secrecy and attempts to cover up important information.
Iran has also faced criticism from Ukraine after it refused to allow participation in the investigation.
Ralph Goodale, Canada’s special adviser on the crash, told The Times that Iran “contaminated” the site and used bulldozers to hide crucial information. Victims’ families have said personal belongings on board the flight were confiscated.
“That’s deliberately rubbing salt into the wounds. It’s disrespectful, it’s disgraceful and it shows real contempt for human life,” Goodale said. The threats, intimidation and stalking that Canadians have faced is “reprehensible,” he added.
Another target of Iranian intimidation is Javad Soleimani, whose wife Elnaz Nabiyi, a 30-year-old Ph.D. student, died in the crash.
He said a sign reading “Congratulations on your martyrdom” was dressed on her coffin at her funeral in Iran before he fled the country.
A Canadian association that represents victims’ families, headed by Esmaeilion, has urged Canada to take Iran to the International Court of Justice.
However, such a step can only be taken after all other avenues of negotiation have been tried, Goodale said. “Part of the strategy on the part of Iran is to simply wear us all out,” he added.
Iran last week said it would pay $150,000 in compensation for each victim of the crash, but the offer has been criticized by families.
“How do you put a figure on a loved one?” said Payman Parseyan, an Iranian community leader in the Canadian city of Edmonton, where 13 of the victims lived. “Yes, compensation is part of Iran taking accountability, but it comes way after truth and justice.”
Esmaeilion, who married his wife Parisa after they met in college, said: “She was a dedicated dentist, a very knowledgeable person and the best mom I have ever known, the best wife I’ve ever known.” His daughter Reera was “the most precious child,” he added.
Esmaeilion said one year after the crash, “we keep fighting for justice, that’s our duty and our goal. We are not going to give up.”