Iranian security agencies have harassed and abused families of the victims of the Ukrainian passenger jet shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) after takeoff from Tehran last year, Human Rights Watch said on May 27.
"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," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
Days after official denials in the wake of the January 2020 tragedy, Iran admitted that an IRGC unit had inadvertently shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 when it fired two missiles amid heightened tensions with the United States over the U.S. drone strike that killed top general, Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad.
Iran's final report into the incident cited "human error" and a broken radar communication system with a military unit as reason the plane was shot down. But Tehran has come under criticism from the UN, Canada, and Ukraine for misleading statements and lack of transparency about the investigation. Iranian authorities have also provided little public information about the 10 people indicted for their role in the incident.
The majority of the victims were Iranians and Canadians, whose families have demanded transparency and accountability. The Iranian government has allocated $150,000 to compensate the family of each passenger, but some families have refused the money.
Human Rights Watch said it spoke to 31 family members of victims and other people with direct knowledge of Iranian authorities' treatment of victims' families. They said that Iranian security agents had arbitrarily detained, summoned, interrogated, tortured, and otherwise mistreated victims' family members.
The agencies also interfered with burial and memorial gatherings in an apparent attempt to crush calls for accountability.
Human Rights Watch said at least 16 people claimed that security agencies threatened them not to participate in media interviews and summoned victims' relatives or friends who attended memorials. In one case, security agents tortured an individual in custody and in another instance threatened a victim’s family member with prosecution for speaking out against authorities.
After Iran admitted its forces shot down the plane, protests that broke out in several Iranian cities were met with rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas. Human Rights Watch said courts have sentenced at least 20 people in connection with the protests.
"Iranian authorities have continued to harass and pressure people speaking out publicly about the government's mishandling of the investigation and demands for accountability," Page said.
"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." he added.