LONDON: Iranian authorities waged a campaign of harassment and abuse against the families of people who died in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s (IRGC) downing of a Ukrainian airliner in January last year, Human Rights Watch claimed on Thursday.
The organization spoke to 31 family members of victims and those with direct knowledge of the authorities’ treatment of the families between October, and January this year.
It said: “Iran’s security agencies had arbitrarily detained, summoned, abusively interrogated, tortured, and otherwise mistreated victims’ family members.”
The agencies were also accused of failing to return the possessions of victims to their families and interfering with burial and memorial gatherings.
Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Iran’s revolutionary guard killed 176 people without a shred of accountability, and now Iran’s brutal security agencies are abusing victims’ family members to squash any hope for justice.
“Rather than attempting to regain people’s trust through a transparent investigation and redress for the families, the authorities are again silencing accountability efforts.”
Authorities in Iran had also intimidated victims’ family members, the organization added. Relatives reported that Iranian officials interfered with burial and memorial services and pressurized families to accept the government’s “martyrdom” status for their loved ones. Photos and videos were also published at services without the permission of families of the deceased.
At least 16 people said that Iranian security agencies threatened them not to speak to foreign media or had followed or summoned their relatives and friends who went to memorials and filmed those attending the events.
Some family members were interrogated or detained for hours and others were warned of “consequences” unless they removed social media posts critical of the Iranian government’s lack of accountability.
“Iranian authorities have continued to harass and pressure people speaking out publicly about the government’s mishandling of the investigation and demands for accountability.
“All governments involved in the investigation of downed flight 752 should ensure that the rights of victims’ families are protected to pursue genuine accountability, including holding those responsible criminally liable and providing families with adequate compensation,” Page added.
Iranian authorities announced on April 6 that they had indicted 10 people for their role in the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752. However, no information about their identities, ranks, or the charges against them have been made available.
A US drone strike in Iraq on Jan. 3 last year which killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, was followed on Jan. 8 by Iranian missile attacks against a US base in Iraq and Iran’s downing of the Ukrainian passenger jet close to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport.
After several initial denials, the Armed Forces Central Command admitted that the IRGC had “mistakenly” shot down the plane, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board.
Iran’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Board published a final report on the incident in which it said that Iranian missiles were launched at the jet due to a 105-degree miscalibration of the launcher’s radar.