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Iran’s Rouhani demands justice for downed plane victims

Despite yearlong persistent calls from families of the victims, Iran has not yet put to public trial those who shot down the Ukrainian airliner.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said those involved in last year’s missile attack that brought down a Ukraine passenger plane outside Tehran should face justice.

“There is no doubt that the judiciary will prosecute all the perpetrators,” Rouhani said in a Cabinet meeting Jan. 6, two days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. "Light must be shed” on all aspects of the “incident” before final verdicts are issued, Rouhani said.

The comments struck a resemblance to what Rouhani declared following the tragedy one year ago, since which the Islamic Republic has failed to bring to court a number of individuals it said were arrested in connection with the jet downing. The Kyiv-bound civilian plane was hit with two missiles fired from an air defense base run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, killing all 176 people on board. 

On Tuesday, judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hossein Esmaeili told a news briefing that a preliminary investigation at a military court has been wrapped up and the case will be examined next by a civilian court in Tehran. He offered no further details, such as a timeline for proceedings or the identities of the defendants.

In his address, the Iranian president confirmed his government’s approval of $150,000 to be paid in compensation per victim. The decision has already been rejected by several families of the victims as well as Ukrainian officials who argue that any such compensation must be set only after international probes are concluded.

Iran says it has recently submitted a draft report to the other parties to be reviewed and sent back to Tehran within two months. Another report back in July indicated that the flight was shot with two missiles with a 25-second interval. The published data indicate that following the first missile, passengers and crew were still alive while the pilot attempted to divert the plane back to the airport for an emergency landing before the second missile was fired, which destroyed the aircraft mid-air.

In the immediate aftermath, theories of a missile attack were categorically denied by Iranian officials as Western “media hype.” Three days later, however, they called it “human error.” The cover-up attempt triggered a wave of public protests, which saw multiple arrests. Several of those who protested the plane downing are now languishing behind bars after facing trials and receiving prison sentences.

With billboards across Tehran labeling the victims as “martyrs” ahead of the anniversary, the Iranian government has been attempting to close the case in ways, which some families of the victims have found to be insulting to their injuries. And, meant to alleviate the pain of the families, a tweet by a Tehran deputy mayor in which he called the tragedy a “plane crash” only drew the ire of many Iranians, who reminded him that the 176 deaths were caused by “missile fires” rather than a “crash.”

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