Iran 'dodging accountability' by prosecuting Ukraine plane crash protesters, HRW says

Iran 'dodging accountability' by prosecuting Ukraine plane crash protesters, HRW says
Human Rights Watch has urged Iran to cooperate with international investigations into the deadly January crash and halt prosecutions against protesters.
3 min read
10 May, 2020
Iran has been accused of dodging responsibility for the deadly crash [NurPhoto]
Human Rights Watch has censured Iran for imprisoning more than a dozen people over protests against the accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner earlier this year.

Despite being hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Tehran has sentenced at least 13 people to prison over the protests since late April, the rights organisation said on Saturday.

On January 8, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shot down a Ukrainian Airlines passenger jet, killing all 176 passengers and crew members. The majority of the passengers were Iranian nationals or dual Iranian-Canadian citizens.

After initially denying any involvement, Tehran admitted to "mistakenly" downing the plane just hours after firing a volley of missiles at an Iraqi base hosting US troops. That attack came in retaliation against Washington's killing of a top IRGC commander in a drone strike.

"Iranian authorities are following their usual playbook of dodging accountability," Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said on Saturday.

"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," Page said.

Iran has still not delivered the black boxes of the downed plane to Ukraine as promised, nor has it provided information about any investigation into the crash.

Dozens of protesters gathered in the Iranian capital Tehran after the IRGC admitted to the "mistaken" downing of the plane. 

Amnesty International accused security forces of using "unlawful force" against peaceful demonstrators, citing their use of rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray, along with pointed air gun pellets normally used for hunting.

It said security forces also beat protesters with batons, kicked and punched them and made arbitrary arrests during protests.

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A number of funerals for Iranian citizens killed in the crash also reportedly turned into anti-government demonstrations.

It is unclear how widespread the demonstrations were. They came just two months after a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests plunged the country into a communications blackout and killed as many as 1,500.

Mostafa Hashemizadeh and Amir Mohammad Sharifi, two University of Tehran students, confirmed on Twitter earlier this month that they had been sentenced to prison in connection with the protests. 

Hashemizadeh was sentenced to a total of six years in prison, three months community service and 76 lashes over "assembly and collusion to disrupt national security" and "disrupting public order".

Sharifi said he was sentenced to six months in prison for sharing "propaganda against the state", a verdict he said stemmed from his sharing photos of plainclothes police officers entering the university dorm.

Another 11 people were sentenced to eight months in prison for promoting "propaganda against the state" for "chanting slogans against the Islamic republic of Iran" and "taking photos and videos" during a vigil for the victims of the crash and protests afterwards in the Mazandran province, according to a verdict published by news website Zeitoon.

It is unclear whether any others have been sentenced over the demonstrations.

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